Soybeans are loaded into a grain cart

Soybeans are loaded into a grain cart following harvest in Illinois last fall. In some areas, damaged grain is in high supply this year.

Buyers who specialize in distressed grain are keeping busy.

“We’re seeing a lot of damaged grain this year,” said Ron Callan of Callan Salvage and Appraisal. “In fact, we just about have more than we can handle.”

He is not alone. Some crops harvested at high moisture last year are flooding salvage companies across the U.S. And large batches of the late-planted crops following an extremely wet spring this year are also headed for special handling.

“There’s no question — there’s more this year,” said Callan, whose company is based in Bartlett, Tennessee. “It’s from weather. They couldn’t get in to cut it and when they did, it’s high moisture.

“Grain that came out of the field last year and also this year has got some damage.”

Callan operates as a middleman of sorts. He does not store grain and does not buy any directly from farmers. Instead, he specializes in finding buyers for less-than-perfect corn, soybeans and other grains.

Carl Schwinke, vice president of grain supply for Siemer Milling, has not encountered serious issues with this year’s wheat quality.

“Weather is a big issue this year. It was really wet,” he said. “We got a little bit of sprouting damage. For the most part, it wasn’t terrible. But it was annoying. There was very little test weight drop. It’s a pretty usable crop.”

The Teutopolis, Illinois-based miller rarely takes seriously damaged grain. When Schwinke is forced to take wheat lower in quality than he prefers, he is usually able to blend it with higher-quality grain. Occasionally, quality can be so poor blending is not a viable option.

“A lot of times it just won’t come through our door with that much damage. We won’t accept it,” Schwinke said. “We’ve had years where it was that bad. There are some feed markets you can go to, but that’s never the first choice.

“When we get a year with a high percent of damaged wheat, we pray for next year.”

Farmers sometimes plant damaged wheat as a cover crop.

“Even that grain works,” Schwinke said. “It has some uses. But it can go to the feed market, if that’s the only answer.”

Blending is common in years where grain damage is widespread.

“Typically, the best way to deal with it is to blend it off,” said Todd McTaggart of Evergreen FS Elevator in Bloomington, Ill. “You can consolidate the off-quality grain in an area. The discount scale allows for 5% damage anyway, so if you can cut it in higher-quality corn, that’s the best way.”

McTaggart said he has never had to deal with grain that is so far gone it cannot be blended. Instead, he works damaged grain into his inventory.

“If I have really good inventory, I might be a little more relaxed on my discount schedule, knowing I can blend it off and make a little money on the outbound side,” he said.

Callan said many high-moisture soybeans stored in grain silos last year have been hit with spontaneous heating.

“There is a lot of damaged grain out there,” he said. “Some we use for blending, some for feed and some we export. If it’s fire, you’ve got a smoke odor, so it’s hard to blend.”

Don Stickle, who once owned his own distressed grain buying company and now works for West Side Salvage in Anamosa, Iowa, said extensive flooding areas in Iowa, Nebraska and other Corn Belt states this year heavily damaged many loads in silos.

“The flooding has caused a lot of damaged grain. That’s been big,” he said. “Basically, if it’s flood damage, they need to get hold of someone who understands salvaging and go through the hoops of dealing with FDA.”

Most damaged grain handled by Stickle goes to the livestock feed market, he said. He believes there could be problems with grain quality right out of the field this year.

“I see a lot of damaged ears of corn with mold in it everywhere,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a big mycotoxin problem this year.”

McTaggart does not anticipate such problems in Illinois.

“I don’t expect to see a lot of damage in the field, as far as rotting issues,” he said. “Early on, with all the stresses, there was a lot of talk about it. But samples in some of the fields I’ve been in is really not indicating that there is a lot of disease pressure out there this year that will lead to damaged grain issues down the road. I hope I’m not wrong.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.