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Published October 29, 2012, 10:17 AM

Grain pile scramble

If the rain stops, Mike Morgan and his crews at Thompson (N.D.) Farmers Co-op Elevator will be scrambling Oct. 29. Morgan expects that’s when the co-op will be able to start removing that 550,000-bushel pile of corn it put on a soybean stubble field east of town.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

THOMPSON, N.D. — If the rain stops, Mike Morgan and his crews at Thompson (N.D.) Farmers Co-op Elevator will be scrambling Oct. 29.

Morgan expects that’s when the co-op will be able to start removing that 550,000-bushel pile of corn it put on a soybean stubble field east of town. About 3.5 inches of rain have fallen in the past three weeks, shortly after the pile was built.

“It’s not too bad yet, but we want to get it off,” Thompson said in an Oct. 24 interview with Agweek. “You can tell there are spots where it isn’t the greatest. If you don’t get it up, the top couple of inches will start ‘growing’ on you — sprouting and turning moldy.”

Morgan says the piles are a good news-bad news scenario played out with most elevators in the in eastern North Dakota this year.

Steve Strege, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association in Fargo, says he hasn’t heard any complaints from members about railroads not delivering trains as scheduled. “I know everybody wants as much transportation as they can get, as soon as they can get it. Of course that’s not going to happen.”

Strege says he hopes elevators with grain piles are able to properly aerate or remove them before spoilage occurs. “It’s a risky business,” he says.

On the good news side, elevators got so much grain so early that their elevators overflowed in September. The big trains they’d need to haul off soybeans or corn at 400,000 bushels at a crack are coming largely on schedule, but the schedules were set for October.

Thompson Farmers Elevator got one of those shuttle trains on Oct. 24 and had another scheduled for Nov. 1. Morgan says that means it could start moving the pile east of town indoors. The pile was on 2012 soybean ground — hard-packed with a kind of “crown” on it, to allow moisture to run off. But its preservation is not guaranteed.

“I think we’re all pretty nervous,” Morgan admits. “We need to get things picked up in a timely fashion.”

Here are reports from other operators in North Dakota:

DRAYTON — Harold Weimer, manager of the Cenex Harvest States Inc. elevator in Drayton, says he had 2.3 million bushels in piles at one time, but had whittled that down to 1.5 million as of Oct. 23, including some soybean, some wheat and some corn.

Weimer has good air to keep the piles in condition, but 700,000 bushels of corn are not covered. “The more and more rain you get, you can’t get it picked up,” he says. “The longer you leave it, the more it deteriorates. You bite your teeth and wait until it either freezes or dries.” He figures the elevator had received 5.5 inches in the previous two weeks. “That’s after we couldn’t buy a rain all summer,” he says.

The company is working on the beans first because they tend to go “sour” more quickly than any other crop, Weimer says. It had 500,000 bushels of beans in piles initially, but that was reduced to about 10,000.

“I do know, in talking to others, some people are panicking,” Weimer says. “If we’d just freeze up, everything would be fine. It could rain five more inches and it wouldn’t matter” for grain storage. He says if it starts getting warmer, in the 50- to 60-degree area, the corn starts sprouting in the pile and quality deteriorates.

Weimer says he’s heard some elevators along Interstate Highway 94 toward the Minneapolis area have outdoor piles of 2 million or 3 million bushels. “You get that out of quality (specifications) and you have to have so much good quality to mix it off with. We only put a certain amount of our handle (capacity) on the ground. We know then that if we get off-quality we can mix and blend it to take care of the problem ourselves.”

FINLEY — David Fiebiger, manager of Finley (N.D.) Farmers Grain & Elevator Co., says he has some soybeans on the ground, but transportation isn’t an issue.

“I’m concerned but not worried,” Fiebiger says. As of Oct. 23, Finley Farmers had plans to pick up its 500,000-bushel-plus pile in the next week to 10 days. He says the biggest problem is being able to get at the piles to remove it. “The ground will be sloppy,” he says.

Fiebiger acknowledges the risk in putting grain on the ground in early October. “I was concerned about it the day I put it out there,” he says, and only half-jokes that elevator managers have to buy a “roll of Tums or a jug of Pepto (-Bismol)” stomach acid remedies the day they do that. “There’s never a time when I’m going to feel good having grain on the ground,” Fiebiger says.

OAKES — Myron Jepson, manager of James Valley Grain in Oakes, says elevators throughout southeast North Dakota are dealing with piles, and all of them are watching spots for drainage and other problems. The elevator put backhoes on top grain piles to help pile the grain higher and get more onto the piles from late September into early October.

“We’re getting some transportation,” Jepson says. “Deep into October, the normal freight orderings are coming in — only a little slow. We’re happy in that regard.”

On the other hand, there is some “very warm” grain on the ground. The outside grain temperatures are cooling off with the air temperature, but the interiors are about 85 degrees, about the same temperature when it was dumped, and sitting on raw, unprepared ground.

The elevator has 8 million bushels of storage under roofs. It had put 5 million bushels in the outside piles, including some corn and beans. It has removed 800,000 bushels, but still has about 4 million bushels outside. Three shuttles are coming in the next week or so, which would allow the removal of about 1.2 million bushels. About 2 million is in an aerated bunker-style pile, which probably won’t move until March.

Beans get picked up first, along with anything on the raw ground.

Jepson notes that with a potential longshoremen strike in the Pacific Northwest, and with corn shortages in areas of the Midwest where ethanol factories use corn as a feedstock, some of the elevators are moving their corn eastbound instead of westbound. “When’s the last time North Dakota corn has flowed that far east — 1996?”