An increased amount of corn that is coming out of farmers' bins this spring is not worth the cost of hauling it to the elevator or to the processing plant. "Yes, with some of the corn that we are seeing come here, the kernels are damaged fairly bad," says Ray Jenkins, senior grain merchandiser for Cargill at the firm's Eddyville corn processing plant in southeast Iowa.
"Corn that was harvested last fall is the most difficult crop to store that I've ever seen," says Charles Hurburgh, a grain quality expert at Iowa State University. "The grain wasn't completely mature last fall when it was harvested and we're seeing a significant number of problems developing now. The grain marketing system is essentially full of damaged corn at this time. It can't handle anymore corn that is damaged."
If you crawl up in the bin now, are you going to smell the problem or are you just going to see if the corn is crusted over on the grain surface—if it is damaged corn? "Obviously, if it is crusted over you'll know it and you'll see it," says Hurburgh. "If it has not reached that point yet and your can't see a crust—but if the corn is starting to get moldy—then generally you can smell a sweet-sour smell in the bin peak if the grain is starting to go bad."
Pull a load or two of corn from your bins
If you've measured and recorded the temperature of the grain regularly during storage and you start to see some gradual increases in temperature, that's a sign something is going on in terms of grain deterioration. "Also, this year being what it is in terms of softer and wetter corn than usual now stored in many bins, I recommend that you take a load or two out of the bins, particularly the larger bins. That will allow you to look at a cross section of the grain and see if it is starting to get clumpy."
Is it really worth the effort to do this—to pull a load of grain out of the bin? "I realize it is a pain in the neck to have to level the grain back out again in the top of the bin for airflow reasons. But it could be a pretty expensive pain in the neck if you don't do this—if you don't remove a load or two from the bin to get a good look at the condition of the grain," warns Hurburgh.
People are hauling corn like crazy these days, delivering it from farms to elevators and ethanol plants. Does Hurburgh believe many farmers already realize that some of the stored corn is deteriorating in their bins? Are people hauling the corn to try to get the grain into someone else's possession as quickly as possible? "Yes, for sure that is occurring," he says.
Some elevators, processors offering contracts
Some elevators or processors who are buying corn have low-cost or free deferred price contract arrangements they are offering now. That allows the opportunity for farmers to move the corn and get it into a commercial warehouse. There have been a lot of cases in Iowa where this has been done in the past month or so. You could tell at the time, when you took a close look at the corn that was running out of a bin and into a truck, that it wouldn't be long before that corn in the bin would be developing increased problems with damage.
"Everyone should check the corn stored in their bins today," advises Hurburgh. "This warm weather is starting the process for the corn to go out of condition very quickly. Once it starts to go bad, the condition of that 2008-crop corn will deteriorate very fast and you may not be able to get it back under control."