Grain storage struggles after flood far from over

Grain bins succumb to the March floodwaters in Iowa.

Grain storage is a tough challenge for farmers in southwest Iowa into the eastern Nebraska counties in the aftermath of the historic March flooding.

Farmers on flooded river bottoms have limited access to grain storage due to wet conditions around their bin sites or closed roads. It’s made moving grain and managing bins difficult.

“In the worst cases, flood waters have reached grain bins and caused catastrophic damage,” said Shawn Shouse, agricultural engineering specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, who works out of the Armstrong Research Farm in Lewis, Iowa. “In some cases the wet grain swelled, causing sufficient pressure to burst bin seams, destroying the bin and spilling the contents out into the floodwater. In other cases, flood-damaged grain remains in the bin, waiting for the overwhelming task of digging the damaged, and now worthless grain out of the bin and assessing damage to the bin itself.”

Grain touched by flood waters is considered adulterated, and cannot be sold into the market, made into ethanol or fed to livestock, Shouse added. This grain must be eliminated by land-filling, composting or land application at reasonable agronomic rates, he said. Above the flood damaged grain may be more stored grain that has gone out of condition thanks to weeks of storage above wet grain with no aeration.

“This damaged grain may have salvage value for some uses, but has still lost significant value,” Shouse added.

Some has already been removed from above the adulterated grain, and some still waits in inaccessible bins.

“There’s no good way to get a solid number of loss,” began Charles Hurburgh, professor of agricultural engineering at Iowa State University. “And while that’s serious and a big deal especially if it involves you, in terms of total loss in Iowa, we estimate two to 10 million bushels of grain soaked by floods, which is adulterated and can’t be salvaged.

“Then, in the bins, probably five times that amount, because flood waters went up a few feet and the water rose up. Bins are not water tight.”

However, Hurburgh had a bit of good news.

“Any grain in the bin above the water line or in a bin that burst — spreading that grain outward — and didn’t go into water, is still salvageable.”

But if the grain got wet from river water, it’s not salvageable since river water is contaminated. “Floodwaters took out sewage from Omaha’s sewage plant and others,” Hurburgh said.

Typically, farmers are marketing and moving grain from storage this time of year. Checking grain frequently to assure good storage conditions and keeping it cool until movement would be primary management concerns in a normal year.

“But we know this spring has been anything but normal,” Shouse said.

Many farmers are now preoccupied with planting. However, grain storage structures destroyed in the spring flood will need to be rebuilt, or farmers could consider commercial storage options in the future.

“We will have few storage issues this fall due to those acres being flooded and not planted in the 2019 crop year,” ISU Extension agronomist R. Aaron Saeugling said. “If storage does become an issue this fall, farmers have several options from commercial storage and also the availability of temporary storage like grain bags.”

Flooding could have implications for grain storage outside of damaged grain and bins.

“Flood impact not only can damage the physical structure of grain storage, but also the expense of the electrical components that run fans and spreaders,” said Dustin Bowling, AgriGold western agronomy manager. “The other major impact is the infrastructure implications of not being able to get to your grain set up, due to damage to roads and bridges. I know there has been a big movement in other areas of the Midwest to in-field bagging systems that can store large quantities of grain right in the same field that it is harvested.”

Hurburgh feels silo bags are risky.

“That’s because we don’t normally have corn out of the field at low enough moistures and cool enough temperatures for unaerated bags to work,” he said, adding that drying wet corn before bagging is an option. “And it can provide inexpensive storage for grain users, but it takes away some of the on-farm advantages of the bags.”

Amy Hadachek can be reached at amy.hadachek@midwestmessenger.com.