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
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
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
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
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
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
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