With a record-breaking crop growing in the fields, grain storage availability is shaping up as a leading concern for the 2016 Iowa corn and soybean farmers heading into harvest.

"There’s no doubt we’re going to have a lot of grain and we’ll probably still have a lot of grain stored on farms," said Charles Hurburgh, who leads the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative at Iowa State University.

Carryover stocks have been building over the last several years, he notes. "We’re gaining carryover pretty rapidly, and our county elevators are really going to have an issue," Hurburgh said.

Jim Kennedy, grain warehouse bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Agriculture, sees the same picture.

"Looking at a June 30 cutoff date over the past four years, in 2013 we had 20.5 percent of our storage capacity in use. In 2014 it was 26 percent, 2015 percent was approximately 30.1 percent, and this year we were at 34 percent, so we’re going to see more carryover this fall."

While Iowa’s storage capacity has increased in recent years, it has not kept pace with crop production increases.

Greg Brenneman, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach agricultural engineer, is very optimistic about Iowa’s 2016 corn and soybeans, noting that planting went exceptionally well and corn pollinated ahead of schedule.

"The whole growing season has been ahead of schedule, so the chance of an early frost [limiting yields] is minimal," he says. "And I haven’t heard a lot of disease issues."

Booking storage ahead

As of mid-August there was little evidence of potential mycotoxin issues in Iowa’s corn," according to Hurburgh.

"It looks like a very good crop," says Brenneman. "I’m sure we’ll see some corn piles on the ground this fall."

Kennedy suggests Iowa growers try to book some storage ahead of harvest.

"If there’s going to be tight storage, it’s always good to get some space lined up, based on what you see out there with your crop but not over-book and face a penalty," he said.

Hurburgh said grain quality is the key to successful storage. And maintaining quality starts before harvest by test-starting dryers, cleaning out aeration systems and drying floors, he said.

Adjusting combine settings and trash removal are also important, Hurburgh said.

"Trash is the biggest single cause of future storage problems – foreign matter and broken grain," he warns. "It plugs and diverts air flow, and trash spoils faster than grain," he said. "That’s doubly true when aeration isn’t perfect."

Hurburgh warns growers never to put new and old-crop corn together or to put wet grain in on top of dry grain.

Old-crop corn may need to be moved first to accommodate this, he said.

Controlling moisture and temperature is critical. "If you have a large bin, I wish everyone would have at least one temperature cable in the bin," he says.

"Follow the rules on aeration. Keep the grain as close to the outside temperature as you can. Try to drop the temperature with the drop in air outside, and get down to the 40s as quick as you can.

"Then you have bought yourself a bunch of time and storage insurance," Hurburgh says.

Start drying immediately

He urges growers to start the drying process immediately.

"Do not try to hold wet grain more than you absolutely have to, because it is very easy to sacrifice half the future shelf life of your crop in the first one to two days after harvest," he says, comparing it to leaving a quart of milk on the kitchen counter for a half day.

Finally he said growers should never make temporary grain piles on the farm.

"Smaller piles go bad faster than big ones," he said. "Piles need to be at the elevator where there’s constant monitoring and some aeration. I hope farmers never make piles."

Munro is a freelance writer in Windsor Heights.