In early September, bin-busting corn yields were being reported throughout the Mid-South. With rice harvest going strong and soybeans ripening, storage is crowded and growing more so.

“The situation is overloading storage facilities,” says Dennis Gardisser, Extension agricultural engineer with the University of Arkansas. “Everyone is doing what they can to capitalize on storage. Some elevators are charging for storage now and didn't previously. That's a new development for Arkansas farmers.”

Any producers who doubted it previously now realize that grain storage will pay. “Storage certainly enhances the ability to harvest in a timely manner. You don't have issues with trucks waiting to dump grain. I think we'll continue to see more and more storage popping up on farms. And (Extension engineers will) do what we can to teach people to use it efficiently.”

In northeast Louisiana, “consultants report 85 percent of corn harvested in the (Tensas/Catahoula/Concordia parish area), up from 65 percent (in late August),” says Bill Branch, LSU AgCenter agricultural engineer. “Rain may be slowing harvest and taking some pressure off elevator truck lines. Grain sorghum also is moving along rapidly, followed by soybeans, and then rice.

“Apparently some corn has been dumped on the ground with expectations of covering with a tarp prior to rain.”

Storage bags

To alleviate the storage crunch, many producers have turned to large, in-field storage bags. While the method has been successful in other areas of the world, Gardisser and colleagues are very curious to see how it works in Mid-South conditions.

“Because the grain dried down well in the field this season, the bags may be a viable option. We just can't say for sure yet — we certainly can't recommend them without seeing more data from this season.”

But in order for Extension to develop some guidelines and recommendations, “we're cooperating with the grain bag manufacturers for study. We're using temperature probes to monitor what is happening inside the bags.”

In Louisiana, “we've followed Gardisser's lead in inserting thermocouples in grain bags to monitor temperatures, hoping to detect problems if they occur,” says Branch. “Some bags are being damaged in filling, leaving questions about rainwater seeping in. Thanks to dry weather, some corn is going into bags at 12 percent moisture.”

The researchers know what the grain quality was going into the bags. They'll monitor what it looks like coming out and maintain a temperature profile throughout the storage process.

“Last week, we went to a farm south of Blytheville (in northeast Arkansas) and set up several bags with temperature probes,” says Gardisser. “I believe that farm alone will have over 200,000 bushels in bags. The bags are being placed on concrete.”

Any reports of raccoons or other wildlife having found the bags? “Not yet,” says Gardisser. “But we anticipate that. We worked with several bags in Desha County and those are on turn-rows. That setup may be attractive to coons. But electric fences can be strung if that becomes an issue. Honestly, it's hard to think wildlife won't find the bags on a turn-row.”

In southern Arkansas, some farmers are trying to store corn in “10-foot tall concrete barriers that hold 200,000 or 300,000 bushels with a cover. I think those will be more likely to have storage issues than the bags.

“If grain is put into the storage bags at the moisture level a farmers plans to sell it at — and if you put it in there wet, it'll have to be dried later so there's no savings — it's more likely to work. Grain is being put into the bags at 15 percent moisture, or less.”

One thing is certain, says Gardisser. “If elevators take growers' profit through storage, I think we'll see more and more on-farm storage. The people putting the storage facilities in are booked up.

“And based on questions I'm getting daily — 20 or 30 — on storage, drying from farmers without expertise in corn, there's a herd of concerns out there.”

Drying

Among those concerns: how best to dry the corn crop down. “The main thing with drying is air,” says Gardisser. “The more air, the better.”

There are many opinions about grain drying and some aren't scientific. “But recently Mother Nature has provided air with an equilibrium moisture content that's very low. That means if you add heat to a bin, the drying process isn't necessarily sped up.”

Gardisser recently received a call from a corn grower facing 80-degree temperatures with 80 percent relative humidity. It had been raining and he was worried about turning the fans on.

The equilibrium moisture content of the air was running about 14.6 percent. If the grain was above 14.6 percent moisture, “all he has to do is run as much air through the grain as possible and it will dry down to the 14.6 percent, the equilibrium level.

“He was very pleased to learn that. Because energy is so expensive, farmers don't need to pump unnecessary energy into drying. That can get expensive very quickly.”

Back in Louisiana, Branch is hoping “for continued favorable weather and increased truck and barge traffic.”