For many Mid-South farmers, producing a corn crop may not be the biggest challenge they face in a season. It’s when harvest happens, when long lines at the elevator combined with Mother Nature can put a season-long effort at risk.

Transporting and storing grain at harvest has become even more stressful recently with increases in corn production due to improvements in corn yield and higher acreage due to high corn prices. The sheer volume of a good corn harvest can dwarf other harvests.

According to USDA, corn acreage in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana has doubled over the last five years, going from 830,000 acres in 2006 to 1.62 million acres in 2010. During this same time, corn production in the three states increased from 102 million bushels annually to 230 million bushels.

Two Mississippi corn producers have managed to stay ahead of harvest logjams the past couple of season, using cost-effective movable grain hoppers and tractors to move corn to their grain bins, allowing grain trucks to stay on the road to elevators.

When Friars Point, Miss., corn producer John McKee starts corn harvest, he’s looking to keep his combines running from the moment the dew dries in the morning.

McKee produces anywhere from 600 to 800 acres of corn each year and also farms cotton, soybeans and wheat. His corn harvest operation includes a Case IH 7088 combine, grain cart, a Rol-Hopper transportation system (which is manufactured by SafTCart in Clarksdale, Miss., and includes three movable hoppers and a trailer), a Case IH MX 285 tractor for hauling the hoppers and a grain truck. He has 50,000 bushels of on-farm grain storage.

When harvest begins, “our first dump will be in the grain truck, which will immediately head to the elevator. If the lines are backed up at the elevator, we start going to our grain bins.”

To do this, McKee unloads from the field into modular steel hoppers, which hold about 1,000 bushels of corn each. The MX 285 tractor driver will then load the hopper onto a trailer for transport, using the tractor’s hydraulics to pull the hopper onto the trailer bed.

McKee might haul the hoppers immediately to the grain bin or leave them in the field to dump the next morning while the combine is being serviced. Since McKee is within sight of the local elevator in Friars Point, he will occasionally put a tractor and hopper in line at the elevator.

 “You can use one of your regular on-farm workers to handle it,” McKee said.

To transfer grain from the hopper to the bin, McKee uses a rollaway auger. “Once it starts dumping, we don’t have to reposition the tractor. It sits there until we dump the whole thing out.”

Renting or purchasing more grain trucks would also help to relieve harvest time bottlenecks, but trucks can bring their own set of problems. “Trucks are a more expensive system,” McKee said. “That’s not to mention maintenance, insurance, tags and all the regulations involved with running a truck.”

“When there is a lot of grain planted, it’s hard to find trucks,” said Scott Flowers, who farms around 1,500 acres of corn, along with cotton, soybeans and wheat around Clarksdale, Miss. “Also, the rental rates keep going up based on need. When everybody wants them, they can charge you more. Custom hauling costs range from 25 cents to 30 cents a bushel. In 200-bushel corn, your hauling costs will range from $50 to $60 an acre.”