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Published September 12, 2011, 05:32 AM

Less wheat to store, but there are segregation issues

Some area grain elevators, particularly ones in North Dakota, are facing a double-whammy this harvest.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Some area grain elevators, particularly ones in North Dakota, are facing a double-whammy this harvest.

Many of their patrons are harvesting a smaller crop this fall, after the wet spring caused millions of acres in the Upper Midwest to go unplanted. Elevators typically earn a small profit on each bushel they handle, so they make less money with fewer bushels.

Now, with the small grains harvest well under way across the region, elevators have another concern.

Because the quality of harvested wheat often varies greatly this fall, some elevators have more need than usual to keep grain of varying protein and test weight separate, or segregated. Better-quality grain typically receives higher prices, so elevators benefit by segregating it.

That’s easier said than done this fall. Elevators have only so many bins in which to store, giving them limited options in segregating grain.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Paul Coppin, general manager of Reynolds (N.D.) United Co-op.

He expects that the number of wheat bushels handled by his elevator this fall will drop by about a third from last year.

But even though there’s less wheat to store, Reynolds United Co-op must decide how and where to store wheat that varies in quality much more than the 2010 wheat crop did.

The wheat harvest is his area, mostly wrapped up by early September, produced a “very inconsistent” crop, Coppin says.

For instance, test weights varied from 62 pounds per bushel to 54 pounds per bushel.

Grain elevators need to be methodical and disciplined in storing grain of such varying quality, he says.

“You’ve got to set parameters of what goes into each bin” and then stick to them, he says.

Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service specialist in grain drying, handling and storage, says he hasn’t heard had any concerns about safely storing wheat this year.

“There will be more handling of grain this year (because of varying quality), but it hasn’t been a safety issue,” he says.

Segregation typically isn’t a big deal with soybeans, the next of the region’s three major crops to be harvested.

In general, “Beans are beans,” Coppin says.

But quality separation can be an issue with corn, the last of the area’s major crops to be harvested.

Favorable weather in September and October would produce a more uniform corn crop and minimize storage concerns, Coppin says.

Elsewhere in the region

A few Minnesota grain elevators have expressed concern about keeping grain of varying concern separate, but the issue doesn’t seem as pressing or widespread as it is in North Dakota, says Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Feed and Grain Association.

That also appears to be the case in South Dakota.

Many farmers there are choosing to store wheat from their disappointlingly small crop at home rather than at their local elevator, says Mike Nikolas, grain manager at North Central Farmers Elevator in Ipswich, S.D., and a director of the South Dakota Grain and Feed Association.

Wheat that does come in to elevators often has been mixed already, reducing whatever differences in quality that once may have existed, he says.

Krista Lee Evans, of the Montana Grain Elevators Association, says her association members have been busy and that she hasn’t had a chance to talk with her members about the issue of quality separation.

Kim Falcon, executive committee of the Montana Wheat and Barley Comittee, says her members haven’t been talking about the issue. Farmers in the state have a relatively large amount of on-farm storage, she says.