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What to expect for grain quality from damaged plants

By Staff | Aug 28, 2020



As producers being to deal with the possibility of a loss in yields they may need to look into the potential loss in grain quality as well.

Charles Hurburgh, professor in ag and biosystems engineering department at Iowa State University compared grain quality due to drought conditions from those back in 2012.

Although some of the areas weren’t as impacted as severely as they are this year, 2012 was as close to a year as he could find to compare.

“In that year, yields were of course lower, but ironically, the test weight and the protein was higher,” he said. “That’s because the drought in that year still allowed the plant to more or less finish out in a normal way with much smaller seeds.”

Smaller seeds, Hurburgh said usually create a higher test weight and a higher protein because smaller seeds still have the germ and that’s where the protein is.

“A higher protein, higher feed value and there’s a benefit to the ethanol industry,” he said.

Should we expect the same for this year?

“If the drought intensifies and gets to the point where the plant is killed very prematurely, then we might start to drop off the table, so to speak, on the test weight and kernel filling as well, but, right now overall, with perhaps the exceptions of the very hardest hit areas, I think we will get a scenario somewhat like 2012,” he said.

Hurburgh said if we end up in a situation where soybean fields die very quickly, as a result of the drought, those small soybeans turn into chips and the protein and oil levels will both become lower.

“They will have a high percentage of fiber and carbohydrates which doesn’t make the soybean processor very happy,” he said.

As of last week, Hurburgh said the soybean fields are dying prematurely, but not rapidly enough that it will cut off the development of the oil and protein.

But for how long?

“The forecast is not exactly encouraging along this route,” he said.

Storm damaged crops

So far, it is estimated there is a 25% percent loss of the corn crop in the derecho storm hit area.

“The estimates I have heard have gone from 300 to 400 million bushels lost,” said Hurburgh.

All of the corn in that area, he said will have varying levels of quality loss.

Hurburgh grouped that damaged corn into three categories:

1.Totally dead and broken off

This plant will no longer fill the kernel and will leave it at basically the dough stage and a little bit farther at best.

“Looking at very low test weight. If we don’t convert sugar to starch, we will be looking at very low test weights below 45 or so, low protein, soft kernels and virtually un-storable kernels,” he said. “In other words, if any value is to be had, that would be immediate. We have seen these conditions due to an early frost and it does the same thing if the corn is at this growth stage.”

2. Pinched over, the root is lodged but it is still hanging on

In this case, Hurburgh said the plant may continue to convert the sugar in the ear into starch.

“Perhaps not with a lot of additional dry matter accumulation, but at least convert the sugar to the starch in the ear they may already have,” he said. “The plants probably convert the sugar to starch which will make at least some useable starch in the kernels.”

Also, in this case, Hurburgh said producers can expect small kernels with a test weight of less than 50 pounds per bushel and also accompanying poor storage and handling characteristics.

“These may be a little bit more usable, perhaps more marketable,” he said.

3. Corn plants that are leaning and probably will continue living to some extent and continue to develop.

“There will be better kernels yet, probably low test weight in the low 50s and hard to store, but getting up to where it looks more or less like mature corn,” he said.

All storm damaged corn, he said will most likely dry down slower as well.

“I imagine moistures when the storm hit were somewhere in the 40- to 50-percent range,” said Hurburgh. “All will have a slower dry down; the big problem will be the susceptibility of molding of the grain lying on the ground.”

Molding, he said is probably the key concern of the crop adjustment process.

“We would rather not have to leave the corn,” he said. “Harvest it and wait and see what the market will pay for, and make the adjustment at that point, because corn laying has a very high susceptibility to molding, depending on the weather, will produce various toxins.”

Hurburgh advises adjusting the corn and soybeans quickly and eliminating fields that should not be harvested.

“We can do a lot by taking out and not trying to harvest fields that has to do with crop insurance, of course, but we are also taking the very light test weight grain off the market,” he said.

Those field conditions will be changing, and if there is a three- to four-week time period from when the crop adjusters did their analysis, Hurburgh said the adjuster may need to come and take another look.

“I believe that they will ask, or should have asked for check strips if the harvest is going to be much later,” he said. “Pay attention to that because conditions will change and where we don’t have mold now, scout for it, you will probably see it at the time of harvest. Our goal is to keep feed safety hazards out of commerce.”

Soybeans, according to Hurburgh faired a little bit better and yields will vary by field.

“My belief of those in the drought areas may give up a little bit sooner, so we may have a little bit more impact on seed size and quality in the drought areas simply because they got hit with two levels of stress in a relatively close period of time.”

Storing damaged grain

“The bottom line is, quality of the grain will be poor, so don’t expect to keep it around for very long and piled corn, especially will have a very short shelf life and be moved to locations that can use it,” said Hurburgh.

The category one damaged grain that has a test weight below 45 pounds per bushel, if it is harvested at all, Hurburgh said, can be redirected to uses such as feed for beef cattle and not be mixed in with other corn.

“We just as soon get those food safety hazards off of the market,” he said.

Drought damage and storm damaged grain will both create storage risks.

“It’s not going to be a real storable year for us, but probably will be enough storage,” said Hurburgh. “Expect transportation costs and so forth, to move things around to get it in the right places.”

If you do plan to store damaged corn, Hurburgh said not to hold it wet.

“Dry it very quickly and cool it as soon as possible,” he said. “I would add, also that slow drying methods or turning the heat down on bin dryers is not a good thing. You want to get corn to low moisture as quickly as possible and not have it sit warm, waiting to be dried. That will be a very problematic situation this year.

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