October 12, 2006: Harvesting, handling and storing
corn, soybeans and small grains to actually get the premium
prices quoted in the organic wholesale world takes lots of
This is a timely focus since harvest time is here, and it’s
a question I hear over and over.
Many grain growers, large and small, who are new to the organic
marketplace have never managed stored grain. In many cases
they’ve never paid much attention to the grain-quality
aspects of harvesting and handling, either.
Let’s face it—we were never asked to.
Many of us have grown grains for the conventional market
successfully for years or decades. Quality wasn’t our
biggest concern—quantity was. Sure, we can’t take
junk to the elevator without getting a penalty. But for the
most part, if it looks like corn and the moisture is right,
you’ll get paid. And we’re used to sending it
right from the field to the elevator. Harvest it, get it on
a truck and haul it to the elevator—done!
Organic markets and marketing will probably seem a lot different
Start with storage in mind
The first thing to consider is storage. Many of the markets
looking for your products will want you to store your product
and ship it over the course of several months. Storage means
many new challenges and many new things to learn. But, it’s
all worth it in the end, because you get rewarded for each
new activity that increases storage quality.
You’ll get paid to store the grain, to handle the grain,
to ship the grain (if you truck it yourself) and then paid
extra because it’s certified organic.
Isn’t getting paid for a quality product what it’s
Achieving top-quality storage grain starts with your harvesting
practices. Grain kernels damaged during a harvesting operation
won’t store as well as intact kernels with no external
trauma to the coating. Pay close attention to your combine
settings by carefully observing the kernels in the wagon.
Keep an especially close eye on a custom harvester who may
not know as much as you do about your market quality expectations.
If you have used extra skill to grow a premium organic crop,
you need to use extra care to treat it as a premium crop!
This is especially true if you plan to sell it into the human
consumable market. The basics of careful harvest include:
- Run the augers slow and full.
- Screen the grain as it goes into the bin to remove weed
seeds or foreign material.
- Do everything within your power to assure a premium product
coming back out of the bin when it’s time to ship
Not done yet!
Once the grain is in the bin, your work isn’t over.
But remember—you’re getting paid to preserve field
quality all the way to market.
During storage, you should be monitoring the stored grain
for moisture content, insect damage, and the possibility of
rodents. Let’s step back, look at the bins you plan
to use, and ask a few questions:
- Are they free from holes, rust or leaks?
- Have you removed all traces of rodents and rodent waste?
- Have you super-carefully cleaned them of any grain residue,
dust or insect eggs?
- Do they have fans to move air through the grain or supplemental
heat for drying?
- Are you prepared to monitor and trap any insects that
may show up in the bins?
These issues will be important once the grain is in there,
so plan in advance for all contingencies. Prevention is the
best policy when it comes to storing organic grain. Try and
prevent insect damage by keeping the bin spotless. I use brooms
and a Shop Vac to clean the inside of my bins between each
crop, screen out the weed seeds and fine particles before
storage, and try to store my grain for less than six months.
I also use pheromone traps for grain months and hang them
inside the bin. In this way any insects that do find their
way in get trapped and removed. While these traps are really
designed to monitor insect movements, I’ve found that
in a confined space like a grain bin they can function quite
well to capture most, if not all, the insects.
If you’ve done things right in the field and in the
bin, you will have clean, dry, high-quality grain ready to
Once again you have the opportunity to carry through with
quality. Removing the grain from the bin needs to be done
with care. You sure don’t what to damage the grain during
this final step after a full year’s worth of work. Run
the augers full at low speed to prevent cracking the kernels
or splitting the seed coat.
Once the grain is in your buyer’s bin and you’ve
gotten your check, you can relax and savor the value of premium
price for a premium product.
This may seem like an insurmountable pile of work, but it
isn’t. Once you comprehend what high-quality grain requires,
these steps are common sense informed by a few new pieces
of knowledge. You can find good background in the easy-to-read
book called Organic
Grain Cropping Systems and Marketing put together by The
Taking the time to grow, store and market great organic grain
for a premium market should be a financially rewarding experience.
Hope to see you in the marketplace.
From One Farm to Another