Storage Tips for World Trips

By Tim Alexander

The 2019 soybean harvest is a memorable one. Millions fewer bushels will be harvested by U.S. farmers following weather woes. But high stock numbers and muted key export trade partners are keeping a tight lid on prices. And soybean stocks stored on- and off-farm are expected to increase as a result, adding on to the U.S.’ billion bushel ending stocks projection for 2018-2019.

“In central Illinois we have always dumped our beans in the fall and stored some of our corn. That switched last fall with the trade wars, because we always relied on China to take our excess beans in the fall,” explains Mark Hobrock, general manager of Western Grain Merchandising in Rushville. “Last year we had the most beans ever stored on-farm, and this year there will be more than last year on farms across Illinois.”

USDA estimates U.S. soybeans stored in all positions on June 1, 2019, totaled 1.79 billion bushels, up 47 percent from the prior year. On-farm stocks soared to 730 million bushels, up 94 percent from June 1, 2018. Meanwhile, corn stocks in storage fell by two percent.

This reversal of routine is apparent across the state of Illinois. Soybeans in all storage positions climbed to 320.7 million bushels in June 2019, compared with 250 million bushels the prior year. On-farm storage increased from 70 million to 100 million bushels.

This predictably has left grain merchandisers and logistics managers scrambling to meet increased storage demand for soybeans.

“We are still carrying a significant amount of last year’s production, and we have built additional storage space this year for that reason,” says Kim Craig, grain merchandiser for Bell Enterprises, Inc. of Deer Creek, which services Woodford, Tazewell and western McLean counties.

With U.S. soybean production projected at 3.6 billion bushels in 2019 and with soybean exports for 2018-19 down approximately 390 million bushels from the previous marketing year, many farmers are considering adding to their own, on-farm storage capacity. But how can farmers best keep soybeans-- whether commercial or specialty varieties-- in export-ready condition in an on-farm storage environment? Below are some tips from storage experts.

1Sample Soybeans in StorageUSDA Estimates US Soybeans stored in all positions on June 1, 2019, totaled 1.79 billion bushels, up 47% from the prior year. On-farm stocks soard to 730 million bushels, up 94% from June 1, 2018.

“As a warehouseman, the first thing to consider is that you have a commodity with significant value and you have to make sure you have a management plan for that inventory,” Craig advises. “If it has value, make sure your eyes are on that commodity and that you have an accounting of its condition. That means that you are going to have to do periodic samplings of that inventory.”

Craig notes soybeans require their own special kind of care and conditioning-- especially if it’s a wet crop. “You are going to be running fans to make sure it is fresh and cool, and there is always a cost for energy,” he says. “If you want to end up with the right results you are going to have to spend some money to get there. You would be better off spending the money reassuring yourself that you are going to end up with what you want.”

2Watch Moisture Levels

“Don’t ever put any beans in the bin that are more than 14 percent moisture. I like them down below 12,” says Hobrock. “Once they are put away, make sure all of your bins are cored.”

Hobrock explains producers sometime in December should pull a couple of loads out of the bin, about five or ten percent from the center. “Get pods and split beans out of the center and make sure you get them cold. Don’t let them go through a warm-up period. Also, check your bins at least every two weeks, no matter how hot or cold the temperature is. Once it starts to warm up, in March or April, make sure you are checking them every week,” he says.

3Core the BinsThe first step is to harvest them at the optimal time and put them in the bin at the optimal time.Weather dictates how that goes sometimes. This year we are having a later harvest in cooler weather. That makes it harder to get them down to ideal moisture. You want to harvest them at 13 percent and not let them get too dry after you harvest them.

Coring a stored crop on a regular basis may be the single most important measure farmers can undertake to ensure farm-stored soybeans remain in export-ready condition, says Jeff Adkisson, executive director of the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois (GFAI).

“The two key things farmers can be doing are visual observation and coring or pulling out that center core of the bin and refilling the bin. It takes time and effort, but it pulls down the pods, stems and foreign material that tend to congregate in the center part of the bin. If you pull that out and refill over the top, soybeans will stay in better condition to be held over,” he says.

David Wessel, soybean producer from Chandlerville, has been storing soybeans on his Cass County farm on and off for around 30 years. He stresses that to bring stored soybeans out of on-farm storage in export-ready condition, they must be put into storage in “export-plus” condition.

“The first step is to harvest them at the optimal time and put them in the bin at the optimal time,” Wessel says. “Weather dictates how that goes sometimes. This year we are having a later harvest in cooler weather. That makes it harder to get them down to ideal moisture. You want to harvest them at 13 percent and not let them get too dry after you harvest them.” 

4Monitor VigilantlyExpert Keys to Export-Ready Soybean Storage

Farmers storing their soybeans must, above all, remain vigilant in checking stocks and rotating them, stresses Craig.

“If you end up turning your back and expecting everything to take care of itself, you know what will happen,” Craig says. “You are going to lose the condition of your crop and then your goal of carrying that crop over and those beans will be out the window. It is going to take special management and conditioning of that crop to make sure that eight or 10 months down the road that the beans are in the same condition they are now.”

The incentive: Foreign purchasers of Illinois-grown soybeans will settle for nothing less, adds Bobby Dowson, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s international sales division.

“International buyers tell us they like our soybeans better than Argentina’s or Brazil’s, because they are in better shape and they are higher in protein,” he says.