Grain dryers that collected dust for several seasons were put to work running overtime this past fall. And it wasn't just in Indiana, but across most of the Corn Belt. Farmers used to zipping in and out of the elevator while dumping corn during harvest found themselves caught up in long lines. Tempers flared on occasion. Farmers who hadn't had to shut down combines because they were out of storage room found themselves turning off the combine switch more than they liked. And grain handling systems that had handled dry corn coming out of the field easily for several seasons suddenly bogged down when flooded with high-moisture corn.
It seemed like a throwback to seasons of a decade or more ago. That was before genetic improvement turned out hybrids that matured relatively early and dried down quickly, but still produced top yields. Now after this past year, the 'what have you done for me lately?' syndrome seems to be creeping back in. Some sense that farmers seem poised to make decisions based on memories of a bad battle with grain harvest in 2009.
"We want farmers to think carefully before they make decisions about their grain handling system and grain dryer based just upon this last year," notes Toby Ripberger of Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind. Ripberger was one of several Beck's representative presenting information to farmers during a Beck's annual winter customer meeting at Lebanon, Ind., last week. These annual meetings have been standard fare for Becks for about three decades. This year, three crews will take the program to a total of more than 40 meetings throughout Indiana, Illinois and into Ohio.
What the Beck's crew want farmers to consider is that 2009 was anything but normal. It was also the worst harvest season in terms of getting the crop in during the last 35 years. It could be possible to make rash decisions, including investing large amounts of money in a new dryer, in grain handling, and in more storage bins based on a worst case scenario.
Yet on the flip side, Richard Stroshine, a Purdue University grain quality specialist, says farmers shouldn't just dismiss their experiences theis past fall with their grain handling system without thinking through what problems they encountered, and why they encountered them. There's an opportunity to learn from it, he believes.
"One silver lining coming out of the tough season was that it exposed weaknesses in grain handling and drying systems," he notes. The systems hadn't been tested for several years.
Some of these holes or weaknesses in systems can be fixed rather easily, he notes. If you don't already have a grain cleaner in the system, screening or removing fines before corn enters final storage, then that could be something to add, Stroshine says. He's a firm believer that fines in bins are responsible for many storage headaches. He may have also played a role in how many mycotoxins were found in grain coming out of bins this year.
So don't discard the season as an abnormality without thinking through it. There just might be something you could learn, and some changes you could make, that will put you in better stead should this type of year happen again. At the same time, be cautious about diverting all your resources that you have available for investments into grain systems just because Mother Nature ruled in 2009.