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Because the markets for small grains require that farmers produce good yields, but also good grain quality, storage is particularly important. Fortunately, most farmers that raise corn and soybeans usually have the equipment and facilities on their farm to keep small grains in good condition after harvest. In this episode, PFI members share some of their experiences with small grains handling, cleaning and storage.
Small Grains Storage
One thing that makes oats different from other crops is the “sweat” stage post-harvest. “Oats will naturally go through what’s called a sweat, they get hot,” says Ron Rosmann of Harlan, after the crops are harvested. Ensuring they can somehow breathe during that time period helps ensure that those oats don’t spoil. One way that was accomplished historically was by storing them in wooden bins. Today, if they are being stored in metal bins, proper aeration is critical.
“I will absolutely put air on them every time,” says Wade Dooley of Albion, “because I don’t want to have hot spots. I don’t want to have any mistakes. We’re raising them not just as an undifferentiated commodity like corn, I’m raising it for my own usage as seed, so I have to keep the germination up. I don’t want to lose germ on a good crop and then make it into a lousy crop just because I didn’t store it right.”
For selling small grains as a commodity – to a wheat market in Kansas City or organic oats to Grain Millers in St. Ansgar for example – the grain likely doesn’t need any more cleaning than what’s done with a combine. But, Darren Fehr of Mallard, who sells to Grain Millers, says that you might be able to pick up a little test weight. “By the time we finish auguring, and running it through grain driers or just handling it in general, we’ll pick up a few more pounds of test weight,” he says, “it’s just separation of chaff from the good grain.” He says using air during the handling process also helps – whether it’s running the fan on the bin when you put the oats in, or using air systems to move the grain.
But some markets – such as cover crop seed or specialty feed or food grade markets – may require some additional cleaning. Earl Hafner and his son Jeff run Early Morning Harvest, a farm business that mills various grains into flour near Panora. Getting a spotless grain to start the milling process is important for high quality flour, and he recently upgraded from a smaller two-screen cleaner to a larger, 298D Clipper cleaner. (You can find more information about this model at Commodity Traders International.) The machine is certainly not new – he bought it used and fixed it up a bit. “If you get it set right, it does an excellent job,” he says. He also uses the cleaner on grains that he’ll use for cover crop seed.
Darren sells to Grain Millers, Wade uses his small grains for cover crop seed, and the Hafners mill flour, but how else can you economically use a crop of small grains? On next week’s episode, we’ll talk about small grains markets. For more information on small grains, check out practicalfarmers.org/small-grains.