Organic grain market requires—and rewards—quality control
Treatment of grain from field to bin to destination takes a new level of management that non-organic markets don’t demand.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Click here

611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

Grain book covers quality requirements

The Rodale Institute book Organic Grain Cropping Systems and Marketing (2002, 180pp) helps you gain access to opportunities for organic grain marketing across the country and around the world. This handbook was designed to introduce farmers and agriculture educators to organic grain production, handling and marketing, with reference to the USDA’s National Organic Program rules and regulations.

Chapters cover a description of organic systems, soil health, cover crops and crop rotation, compost and nutrient management, pest management, marketing and organic certification. Included are production techniques for corn, soybeans, buckwheat, wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt. Also included is coverage of seed selection, establishment, nutrient management, rotation considerations, harvesting and storage, processing, marketing and other resources.

For details, click here.

Posted 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 care.

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 to you.

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 all about?

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 the grain.

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 ship.

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 Rodale Institute.

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