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Published September 21, 2010, 08:41 AM

Renewed attention on drying, storing region’s crops

With good crops common across the region — and a recent stretch of widespread rains — many farmers are facing important choices on storing and drying their grain.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

With good crops common across the region — and a recent stretch of widespread rains — many farmers are facing important choices on storing and drying their grain.

Producers hoping to add storage or drying capacity this fall better act quickly.

“It’s getting late,” Mike Jelle, proprietor of the Dryer Guy in Maddock, N.D., says of the possibility of having dryers installed on farms before year’s end.

Strong demand nationwide for fans has cut into inventory, so producers may not be able to get the type of fan they want, he says.

“You might have to settle for what’s available,” he says.

One option is buying a fan now, to get through the year, with the understanding that it will be replaced next year with a fan that better fits a customer’s need, he says.

It’s not necessarily too late to add storage this fall, but fast action is essential, says Steve Haman with Northern Grain Equipment in West Fargo, N.D.

Mid-October is the earliest that his company could begin work on site for a farmer who decides in early September to add storage, he says.

Demand for new bins is strong nationwide, reducing availability of both construction crews and material, he says.

Ideally, farmers should be beginning to plan now for new storage to be built in 2011, he says.

“It important to plan early,” he says.

Shiny new grain bins have been increasingly common on the Northern Plains in recent years.

There are 1.25 billion bushels of off-farm grain storage in Minnesota, 768 million in North Dakota, 600 million in South Dakota and 323 million in Montana, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s partly because corn, which yields about three times more bushels per acre than wheat, is increasingly common in North Dakota.

Farmers in the state harvested 1.74 million acres in corn in 2009, nearly double the 930,000 acres in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Demand for dryers also is strong because farm are getting bigger, Jelle says.

A bigger operation can’t wait for ideal weather and sometimes will harvest even if the grain must be dried, he says.

Bins keep getting bigger

The surge in new bin construction hasn’t slowed this year, says Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State University extension engineer based in Fargo, N.D., who works with grain drying, storage and handling.

“There’s still a lot of activity,” he says.

Some producers are replacing aging bins with new and much bigger ones, Hellevang says.

Twenty-five years ago, for instance, producers generally were building 5.000- or 8,000-bushel bins.

Today, new bins typically hold a minimum of 25.000 to 35.000 bushels, Hellevang says.

Bins holding at least 60,000 bushels are the smallest some farmers want to build, Haman says.

A 60,000-bushel bin typically costs about $1.25 to $1.50 per bushel, or $75,000 to $90.000, he says.

Often, one big bin replaces a number of much smaller ones built years ago, he says.

“The older bins have paid for themselves, many times over, and now it’s time to replace them,” Haman says.

Whether bins are added this fall or next year, farmers need to think carefully where the new storage will be built and the purpose it will serve, Hellevang says.

Use care in storing grain

Some farmers still have 2009 grain in storage, and that grain needs to be monitored carefully, Hellevang says.

Producers need to be sure grain cools down adequately, he says.

The importance of handling grain safely can’t be emphasized enough, he says.