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2019 season extremes bring increased grain drying and storage

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — 2019 has been a year of weather extremes for farmers in the western corn belt and this fall may be no exception. With the massive planting delays this spring the crops have been behind in development all season.

Chapman, Neb., farmer Greg Greving farms says that means the corn will have a higher moisture content and so they're prepared for more drying at their farm. "It's going to be substantially more just for the fact that we're a week or 10 days behind," he says.

The corn is also very uneven because of the various crop stages, which can also mean field drying will be difficult. Al Arndt with Brock Grain Systems and Superb Grain Dryers says that's why they've been selling more dryer units this fall than the past several years.

"A lot of the corn is uneven, it's going to come in uneven moisture," he says. "So we're going to need a corn dryer to get the job done."

He says most farmers like to harvest corn when the moisture is in the lower 20s and dry it down to 15%, but that may not happen this year.

"I think a lot of them are going to be up around 27%, 28%," he says. "A lot of this corn is going to come out wetter because they're going to have a shorter time window to get it done."

Tony Johanson, farms near Oakland, Neb., and says, "I can see lines at the elevators being really long this year just for the lack of drying capabilities."

He adds it has been nearly 10 years since the harvest was this late and crops this immature. "It kind of reminds me of back in 2009 when we had a late wet crop where we could be into mid-, late-November when we're finally finishing up this crop."

The potential for more wet corn is why many farmers installed new grain dryers this fall. Plus, the cost to dry grain on-farm is less than at the elevator at three-quarters of a cent per point of moisture. "If you take five points, you could probably be looking at 4.75 or 4.5 cents per bushel," Arndt says.

To save money, farmers also are considering other options for drying grain. Jim Zoucha with Ag and Industrial Equipment sells a patented Val6 EconoDri combo that can be integrated with automated fan systems. He says the net result is more cost-efficient drying because it uses little or no heat.

"A lot of people rely on just air drying, not using any supplemental heat to dry their crop," he says. "Your only expenses are the electricity to run your fan."

Many farmers haven't marketed this year's crop and so there is also increased demand for grain storage. Matt Podany, North America sales manager with Chief Industries, says they're pushing to put in new units before harvest as farmers are planning to store both corn and soybeans.

"Especially right now with the depressed crop prices, there is an advantage to being able to store grain on the farm," he says.

Johanson agrees he's seeing that trend with farmers this fall. "The way the commodity markets have dictated things, guys are wanting to store more on farm and try to catch rallies instead of paying for commercial storage," he says.

In fact, on-farm storage is less expensive than commercial storage and farmers can still retain grain quality for several months.

"It's economical, more economical to dry it on the farm and store it and keep it for a better price some other day," Arndt says. Plus, if farmers catch a rally in the market the return on investment is positive.