The Martens' Farm
Location: about 60 miles southeast
of Rochester, NY, on the western shore of Seneca
Important people: Klaas and Mary-Howell
Martens, Peter, Elizabeth, and
Daniel. Plus Robert Hall (employee/asst farm manager)
Years farming: We've farmed this
farm together since 1991. Klaas has farmed all
Total acreage: 1500
Tillable acres: 1300
Soil type: Honeoye Lima silt
Crops: corn, soybeans, spelt,
wheat, barley, oats, triticale, red kidney beans,
sweet corn, snap beans, cabbage, edamame soybeans
Livestock: sheep, pigs, chickens
for our own use
Regenerative farm practices:
diverse long term crop rotations that incorporate
legumes and small grains, under seeding all small
grains with red clover, actively increasing soil
Marketing: corn & small grains
are sold to Lakeview Organic Grain LLC, our organic
feed business. Soybeans, red kidney beans, and
spelt sold to brokers and processors. Some spelt
is sold as kosher organic spelt. Sweet corn, snap
beans and edamame are sold to processors who freeze
them under brand name labels. Cabbage is made
into sauerkraut and packed under the Cascadian
Farms label. Some of the oats, wheat and barley
are being grown from Foundation Seed to produce
Certified Organic Certified Seed.
WE WISH FARMERS WOULD THINK ABOUT!
Each season at our mill, we receive many loads
of grain from different sources with widely varying
quality. Daniel Hoover dries, cleans and conditions
the grain, storing it often for months, and then,
through a pretty amazing alchemy, is able to turn
all those different loads of grain into high quality,
fairly consistent animal feed that is worth the
organic premium price.
Since Daniel is the one coping with this grain
as it comes from the field and the bins, I asked
him to describe a few things that he wishes farmers
would think more about as they harvest :
the destination of the grain before you start
harvesting. If you are delivering
the grain to the buyer directly out of the field,
be sure you let them know when it is coming before
you start harvesting and give them an accurate,
HONEST assessment of grain moisture, cleanliness
and condition. It may not seem like a big deal
to tell your buyer the grain is 14% moisture when
it is really 14.9 %, or that there are ‘a
few weeds’ in it when it is really quite
dirty, but it might make an enormous difference
in labor and time demands, dryer usage, and cleaning
requirements once the grain is delivered. If you
find mold, insects, or other problems when you
start unloading a bin, let your buyer knows before
delivery. Selling one quality and delivering something
different is not good for anyone!
a good moisture meter and calibrate it carefully.
Learn how to read and interpret samples accurately
and honestly for % moisture with appropriate temperature
calibrations. Check moisture often as you harvest.
Far too much grain goes into farm bins that is
not at a proper moisture level for successful
storage and then comes out in poor condition.
3. Clean before
drying. If the grain is above
about 2% foreign matter, especially with weeds
and other plant debris, run it through a rotary
cleaner before drying and/or storing. Grain dryers
can catch fire if there are weeds and chaff in
the grain, and debris mixed with the grain brings
down quality critically.
Posted September 28, 2004. Standing out
in your field, surrounded by those amber waves of grain or
rustling corn stalks, it is hard to imagine that the value
of that beautiful grain could be spoiled by mishandling during
harvest, transport, and storage. Unfortunately, growing the
crop is only half the battle, though it is the part that farmers
tend to focus on most . Now comes the second half of the challenge
-- maintaining that fine grain quality until sale.
Several years ago, the plant manager of a soybean cleaning
facility spoke to our group of organic farmers about soybean
quality. At the front table, he brought out samples of soybeans
that he had received that year, samples that he called ‘the
good, the bad, and the silly’. Moving down the table,
he held up the jars for all to see, graphically describing
the samples of food-grade soybeans, damaged by harvesting
equipment, improper storage moisture, rough handling, inadequate
storage conditions, and weed staining. It was indeed a rogues’
gallery of avoidable mistakes.
The farmers edged closer cautiously, half hoping, half dreading
that Skip would name names, preparing to be proud, or embarrassed,
or carefully indifferent. But the truth was, they hadn’t
the slightest idea which of the samples were theirs nor which
category their beans had fallen into.
Now it is harvest time again. Throughout the United States,
this has been a difficult and stressful season, and many farmers
and crops are eager for this year to be finished. At our feed
mill, we now are in the role of buying grain from many Northeast
organic farmers. This year, we’re are seeing some truly
beautiful organic grain, heavy, bright, and clean, and we
are seeing plenty that is salvageable with careful drying
and cleaning. Unfortunately, there are definitely a few loads
that are not worth saving. Being organic alone is not enough
to redeem some of the stuff we’ve seen!
Right now, our lives seem to revolve around organic grain
– planting, growing, harvesting, buying, unloading,
storing, grinding, selling, shipping, cleaning up. Daniel
Hoover, our feed mill manager, figures he has seen every type
of grain grown in New York in all different states of disrepair.
That’s a pretty wide range!
Perhaps with a little preparation, the number of really good
grain deliveries will increase, not only to our mill, but
also to wherever you sell your grain!
It starts well before the grain is ready to harvest. We organic
farmers can’t go in and spray if weeds and insects get
away from us in the field, and we can’t use chemo-therapy
to control insects, rodents or mold in storage. As in the
field, our only real control of such problems is to prevent
them before they begin.
All equipment, combines, augers, trucks, wagons and bins,
should be cleaned prior to harvest to remove any old grain
that could be a source of mold and insects. Cleaning out bins
is not pleasant, we know! It is hard to find the time to get
into the bin to shovel, sweep, vacuum, and perhaps even scrape
and hose down. It is hot, uncomfortable, dull work that feels
very unproductive. But you should never put
new, clean, insect-free grain into a bin on top of old grain
or debris. If the old grain was infested, the problem will
spread upward into the new grain and extensive damage may
occur before it is apparent at the surface.
Don’t just dump the cleanout on the ground outside
the bin. All the old grain should be removed from the area
so populations of insects do not migrate back into the newly
filled bin. This is particularly important with summer-harvested
small grains because it is a long time before cold winter
temperatures will slow down mold and insect growth. Clean
around the bins too, removing high grass, weeds, spilled grain,
and debris that attracts insects, rodents, woodchucks and
other undesirable wildlife.
While cleaning, check that the bins are tight, with no cracks
or leaks. Check sides and roof for leaks, corrosion and broken
bolts ... and repair and replace damaged areas, especially
if they will allow moisture, insects and rodents to enter
the bins. Make sure the unloading augers, fans and aerators
work before filling the bin! Some farmers suggest putting
a light inside the empty bin at night to better see leaky
areas. Caulk and repair damaged areas.
If you are not using dedicated organic harvesting and handling
equipment, your certifier will expect you to maintain a cleanout
log, showing that the equipment was thoroughly cleaned and
purged of conventional grain before any organic grain was
introduced. This is particularly critical with custom hired
equipment which is likely to also be used to harvest Bt corn
and Roundup Ready soybeans. You do NOT want those grains contaminating
your organic grain!
Our inputs of seed, land, labor, equipment, fertilizer, tiling,
irrigation etc, combined with whatever the weather brings,
results in a mature crop (we hope!). But, once grain reaches
physiological maturity, that is as good as the grain is going
to get. If the grain stays out in the field past physiological
maturity, there will be a steady decline in quality, test
weight, yield, and, for small grains, the increasing possibility
of sprouting. Waiting for the crop to reach optimal storage
moisture in the field before beginning to harvest can result
in yield loss and in a major loss of quality if rain or snow
delay harvest. It is better to dry good quality grain at the
beginning of harvest than to have to dry damaged grain at
the end of harvest.
Older, well-worn combines are very common on many organic
farms. While older combines can do a good job, they will not
perform adequately unless they are very well maintained,.
There is absolutely no substitute for a well-adjusted combine
in good repair, with the knives, guards, raspbars, and concave
replaced when needed, and with all parts straight and in good
condition so the grain will feed in evenly, quickly and with
Rasp bars and concaves can be worn-out long before they appear
to be. Worn auger flighting reduces capacity and cuts seed
coats. For some crops like barley and grass seed, fillers
should be installed in the concave to do an optimal job. It
is best to keep the combine running at full capacity to prevent
grain from rubbing against iron. Select a ground speed that
will not overload combine or overrun the header’s capabilities,
but is fast enough to keep moving material in.
Iowa State engineers found that poorly adjusted combines
can do far more damage than generally thought. At common combine
settings, an average of 30% corn kernels can be damaged. Much
of this damage is not apparent in the field or in wet grain,
but will lead to grain breakage during drying and can result
in increased shrink, insect and mold damage during storage.
Most combine operators over-thresh grain, damaging the grain
and increasing the amount of fines. The percent damage rises
dramatically when the threshing mechanism or cylinder are
run too fast. Most operators’ manuals list suggested
optimal settings for each type of grain. Use these suggestions
as a good starting place for making the right adjustment to
maintain grain quality and machinery life. (for more details
about the Iowa State research on combine adjustments and operation,
Remember that crop conditions can change not only by the
field but also by the hour as weather conditions and moisture
content change. Peter Shuster, an organic soybean processor
in New York, cautions that dew early in the morning can cause
dust to stick to food-grade soybeans and stain them. It is
critical to wait until after the soybean plants dry completely
to begin combining, maybe until after lunch. After you combine
a few hundred feet into a field, running the combine at full
capacity, stop and look critically at the thrashed beans.
If they do not look clean and bright, stop and wait until
conditions are better
to Minimize Mycotoxin levels
Always use cleaned, high quality seed that is
not carrying seed-borne diseases. Even if the
seed-borne diseases themselves do not produce
mycotoxins, they can weaken the plant and damage
the grain, which then can lead to infection with
2. Harvest at maturity and as
soon as the moisture content allows minimum grain
damage. This means harvesting shelled corn at
23 - 25 % moisture, ear corn at 25 - 30 %, small
grains at 12 - 17%, and soybeans at 11 - 15%.
3. Adjust the harvesting equipment
for minimum grain damage and maximum cleaning.
Especially where scab is evident in the field,
the combine should be set for maximum cleaning,
with higher blower speeds to remove the small
shriveled diseased kernels.
4. Dry suspected grain to at
least 14% moisture as rapidly as possible, at
least within 24 - 48 hours after harvest. Safe,
long-term storage can be achieved at a moisture
level of 13 percent or below.
5. Cool the grain after drying
and maintain dry storage conditions. Sometimes
it may be necessary to clean the dried grain through
a rotary cleaner to remove broken and diseased
kernels and fines, but do not feed the screenings
6. Thoroughly clean all bins
before storage to remove dirt, dust, and old grain
that may be contaminated. Store in water-, insect-,
and rodent-tight structures. Keep grain well-aerated
and monitor regularly.
7. If you have good reason to
suspect mycotoxin problems, contact a forage testing
lab and have the grain tested for mycotoxins before
feeding it or representing it to a buyer as high
quality, clean grain.
Mycotoxins are produced by certain types of fungi that grow
on maturing plant material, especially grains. These can cause
health problems for animals that eat the contaminated grain,
silage, baleage, hay, high moisture corn etc. Wet, rainy,
warm, and humid weather can promote mycotoxin-causing fungi
that grow on corn and small grains. Infection with mycotoxins
is most common on grains damaged by insects, birds, mites,
hail, early frost, heat and drought stress, windstorms, and
other unfavorable weather. Mycotoxins can also form when grains
and forages are harvested and stored at undesirably high moisture
levels, if grains go into storage dirty, or if storage facilities
Experts estimate there are over 300 fungal toxins that can
form on crops, but there are several that are distressingly
common. Several species of the common soil fungus, Fusarium,
can result in ear-rot in corn and scab or head blight in wheat,
barley, oats, and rye and can produce vomitoxin, fuminosin,
and zearalenone. Several species of the fungus Aspergillus,
also a common soil fungi, can commonly cause stored grains
to heat and decay and produce aflatoxins.
It is not easy to tell whether grains contain mycotoxins.
There are accurate lab tests available, but these are expensive
and are usually not done unless there is good reason to suspect
a problem. Aflatoxins can be tested for with black light,
but often the presence of Fusarium toxins are not noticed
until after there is an adverse reaction from feeding contaminated
grain to animals. Mycotoxins make the grain unpalatable, can
cause reproductive problems in animals due to estrogenic activity,
and can even be toxic.
GOES INTO STORAGE
Inspect the grain critically. If there are weed seeds, weed
debris, chaff or non-grain material, clean the grain before
putting it into the bins. A rotary cleaner before the dryer
or bin is usually sufficient.
Studies have shown that the moisture level of the grain going
into storage is key to successful storage. See the chart below
for the maximum grain moisture needed for successful storage.
Note that this percentage refers to the highest moistures
in the bin, not the average moisture. As little as 0.5 percent
moisture can mean the difference between safe storage and
a damaging invasion by storage fungi.
MAX GRAIN MOISTURE
FOR AERATED GRAIN STORAGE
> 12 months
For lesser quality grain, such as grain produced under drought
or moisture stress or with a large amount of damaged or immature
kernels, the recommended maximum moisture levels should be
at least 1 percent lower.
For most farmers, drying the crop is the major bottleneck
in the harvest process. Too often the combine must wait for
the drying to catch up, and the grain dryer is the major limiting
factor in harvest speed. Sometimes it is tempting to try to
hurry the drying process by increasing the temperature. It
is important to monitor the temperature carefully when drying
with heat. Excessive heat can break down protein, oils and
starches, reduce germination, and can result in cracks and
damage that will increase storage insect and mold problems.
With as little as five minutes exposure to high heat, it is
possible to cause 100% of the soybeans to crack. Excessive
heat, especially if the dryer stirring mechanism is faulty,
can also cause dryer and barn fires.
In the bin, it is important that the headspace air is sufficiently
ventilated. If you pack a bin to the roof, water condensing
on the inside of the roof where the grain touches will likely
result in mold which can spread downward through the grain.
Warm, moist headspace air can activate mold growth, causing
grain to crust and seal over, especially when grain is peaked.
Mold can spread over kernel surfaces and results in caking
near the surface in about three weeks The mold produces CO2,
water and heat, raising the humidity and causing further mold
growth. Crusting and caking is not just a grain quality problem,
the chunks can get stuck in augers making unloading the bin
LEAVE IT ALONE!
Aeration in the bin is a very good way to maintain a seasonally
cool and fairly uniform grain temperature. During the fall,
aeration is necessary to remove dryer heat and equalize moisture
levels throughout the grain. During the winter, operate the
fans only when the air temperature is the same or colder than
the grain. Operating fans on warm winter days can cause moisture
to condense on the cold grain. If grain is stored into the
following summer, run fans only at night when the temperature
is fairly cool. Remember that proper aeration also requires
proper ventilation so make sure there are no obstructions
for air movement through the grain.
The chance of grain becoming insect-infested or moldy increases
when it is left undisturbed for several months. A regular
monthly inspection routine throughout the grain storage time
is important. especially during the summer and early fall
months when grain temperatures are right for rapid insect
and mold development. It is a good idea to routinely take
a load out within a month of filling the bin to equalize moisture
and break up any crusting.
During warm weather, insect infestations generally begin
near the grain surface, especially directly 6 -12 inches below
the grain surface, especially at the point of entry where
dust, broken kernels and chaff accumulated during filling.
Walk out onto the grain - your feet should sink in slightly,
If the grain feels hard, this could indicate caking. Smell
the grain for mold, look for insects, stick your hand down
into it at least 10 inches to check for heating and caking.
If you catch grain just as it is starting to “go”,
sometimes just moving several loads out of the bin will redistribute
the moisture enough to stop further deterioration.
Our friend, Chuck Richtmyer, who is also the seed manager
at our feed mill and a long-time farmer, sticks a wooden shovel
handle into grain. Periodically he pulls it out and feels
the end to detect any heating as an early and simple indication
of trouble. Probe thermometers work too, but a shovel handle
is always available.
Check more frequently the next spring and summer as grain
warms up. If grain is frozen during the winter, it may be
necessary to warm the grain up evenly in the spring with aeration
to prevent condensation on edges and top. Operating fans continuously
when thawing frozen grain will prevent refreezing on condensed
moisture and will prevent damp spots.
WHEN THE WEATHER
MAKES IT DIFFICULT
TO DO THINGS ‘RIGHT’ ...
These past two years of incessant rain have pushed our equipment,
our knowledge, and our skills to new limits. Once upon a time,
we thought it was impossible to have 5 straight months of
humidity too high to dry anything. Now we know better! It
can happen and it makes grain storage much more challenging.
Here are a few things that we have learned.
1. Equilibrium moisture -- temperature and
relative humidity (RH) of the air -- plays a major role in
grain storage. Stored at a given temperature and RH, grain
will naturally hold certain amount of moisture. For example,
at 50° F, soybeans will equilibrate to 9.5% moisture at
50% relative humidity. But, at the same temperature, soybeans
will equilibrate at 13.2% moisture at 70% RH and will equilibrate
at 19.4% at 90% RH. Raising the air temperature or increasing
air pressure around the grain will increase the amount of
moisture that the grain releases into the passing air. Charts
are available that show grain equilibrium moisture for different
crops, temperatures and relative humidities. These are valuable
to predict whether aeration alone will be effective under
given conditions. Generally air drying in the fall can work
well, as long as the relative humidity is low, but trying
to achieve air drying under typical Northeast summer or moist
fall conditions will be much less successful.
2. When the humidity is continually too
high to run the bin fans without having the grain gain moisture,
we set a small LP gas heater or camp stove in front of the
fan to warm the air just a few degrees. This isn’t enough
to warm the grain, but it lowers the humidity of the air drawn
in by the fan enough to dry the grain slightly.
3. Using relatively hot (more than 10°
over ambient temperature) air to dry stationary grain creates
a ‘drying front’ in the bin where a layer of wet
grain forms as moisture is pushed up through the grain. The
grain below this layer is often overdried while the grain
at the top of the bin doesn’t lose any moisture or may
even get a wetter for a while. When the front finally gets
all the way to the top, the grain at the top can suddenly
go from being too wet to being way too dry!
4. Wet grain that is in bins for too long
without being moved can develop hot spots that begin heating
and molding. Even with a perforated floor and a fan running,
these spots continue to heat and spoil because the forced
air goes around, rather than through, the grain. Moving such
grain out of one bin and into another breaks up hot spots
and prevents them from spoiling.
5. Grain stored in a wooden bin or touching
wood will keep longer than grain stored in metal. Some farmers
will even stick wooden fence posts into wet grain in the bins
to keep it from spoiling – amazing, but it helps!
AS THIS !*%$!
SEASON WINDS DOWN . . .
Studies show that most consumers who purchase organic products
do so primarily because they perceive organic food to be of
higher quality and nutritional value. This may or may not
always be true. However, it is absolutely imperative that
organic farmers focus on producing and maintaining high quality
organic products to the very best of our ability – that
is unequivocably our responsibility. The days of organic crops
selling easily simply because they are ‘organic,’
regardless of quality, are over and this is as true for organic
wheat as it is for organic tomatoes.
As organic farmers and processors, we have a serious and
challenging responsibility to make sure that the perception
and the reality are as similar as we can possibly make them.
It does matter.
We hope this information on grain handling helps you as the
2004 season draws to a welcome end and as you harvest, store
and deliver high quality grain from your farm.