With drought-impacted yields expected to be poor at best for many Ohio farms this year, growers need to take extra care to ensure that every bushel they're able to harvest is protected against mold, pests and other problems that can ruin what grains they've managed to harvest, said an Ohio State University Extension educator.
After the long, hot summer farmers have suffered through, with drought conditions and low topsoil moisture negatively impacting yields, protecting every single bushel that does get harvested should be high on every grower's priority list, said Curtis Young, who is also an assistant professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State.
To protect the quality and economic value of the grain, growers need to take extra care to prepare grain harvesting, handling and storage equipment and structures for the corn and soybeans that will soon be harvested, he said.
"You don't have money in the bank until you sell the grain," Young said. "The protection of the grain doesn't stop with harvest, so if you are storing the grain on your farm, you need to take care of it.
"That extra care for grain storage is especially intensified this year because yields are going to be sub-optimal, so growers need to protect every penny that they can."
It appears that corn production will drop 13 percent to a six-year low, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said earlier this month.
In its August crops report, USDA cut its projected U.S. corn production to 10.8 billion bushels, down 17 percent from its forecast last month of nearly 13 billion bushels and 13 percent lower than last year. Soybean production is forecast to be down as well, to 2.69 billion bushels, which is 12 percent lower than last year, as well as lower than the 3.05 billion bushels the USDA forecast last month.
The projections mean this year's corn production will be the lowest since 2006, with soybean production at its lowest rate since 2003. The USDA said it expects corn growers to average 123.4 bushels per acre, down 24 bushels from last year, while soybean growers are expected to average 36.1 bushels per acre, down 5.4 bushels from last year.
In Ohio, those numbers translate into a projected yield of 126 bushels per acre, which is down 32 bushels per acre from last year for corn. Soybeans are projected at 42 bushels per acre, down from last year's 47.5 bushels per acre yield.
"The fact is that grain this year is more valuable that it has been in past years and grain prices are historically higher than they've ever been," Young said. "And with limited yields expected this year, what grains growers are able to harvest will be their income for the year, so it is imperative for them to protect that grain."
For example, growers who typically produced 180 bushels of corn per acre and sold the crop at $3.30 per bushel, they would generate $594 per acre in gross income, he said.
"So with the higher prices corn is fetching this year, say $8.25 per bushel, growers who want to generate that same income would need to produce a minimum of 72 bushels per acre to break even," Young said. "But unfortunately, there are fields out there that may not generate even 72 bushels per acre this year."
"And while the higher price of grain will offset the lack of yield, that won't be the case for every field."
To protect their harvest, growers need to ensure that all pieces of equipment used in harvesting the grain be cleaned, inspected and repaired several weeks prior to the beginning of the harvest season.
And with harvest coming sooner this year as a result of the heat and dry conditions, growers should start with sanitizing every piece of equipment used for harvesting, transporting and handling grain, Young said.
"Much of the preparation of the grain storage facility has to do with sanitation, basically cleaning up from previous years to make sure there isn't any contaminated grain anywhere in the facility that could contaminate the new grain coming in," he said. "Even small amounts of moldy or insect-infested grain left in equipment can contaminate a bin of new grain."
Since grain is usually in contact with grain bins for the greatest length of time, extra attention should be paid to the sanitation of these structures, Young said. Growers can remove any grain or grain dust from inside the bins by sweeping or vacuuming empty bins and brushing down walls.
Other tips growers should be aware of include:
- Growers should remove any vegetation including weeds and shrubs growing against the outside of the bin as grain pests such as insects and rodents can be harbored in the vegetation.
- Once storage structures have been thoroughly cleaned, growers should inspect them for signs of deterioration, especially for leaks and holes through which insects, birds or rodents can gain easy access to the stored grain, or where rain and snow can drip or blow in onto the grain to produce wet spots that can lead to mold.
- Once all cleaning and repairs have been completed, an empty-bin application of an appropriately labeled insecticide is advisable, especially in bins with difficult to clean areas and in bins with a history of insect problems.
- Growers should also make sure that new grain is never stored on top of grain from a previous season, Young said.
"Remove any old grain and clean the bins before adding new grain," he said. "Any grain from a previous season will have sat in the bin over summer, which is a key time for insects to infest that grain in the bin.
"Putting the new grain on top of old grain that has been there for that period is taking a terrible gamble that the grain is infested and could infest the new grain."