Maximizing returns

by Harmon Towne
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Whether it’s a small country elevator or a large multinational grain company, the operation of a grain facility is about the same. You receive grain, sample it, may or may not dry it, store it and market it.
 
But in managing your facilities, are you maximizing your returns? The way you manage your operation may depend a great deal on what you do with your grain. Is it sold to companies that turn the grain into feed for livestock and pets or does the grain go into the human food chain? You may think that if the grain is going into animal or pet food, then your operation need not be as sophisticated as one selling grain that is used for food for human consumption. But in today’s environment that isn’t necessarily true.
 
In order to maximize your returns, there are many facets of your operation that must be properly maintained and operated, from receiving the grain to shipping it. Certainly each operation is somewhat unique and you may not employ all of the operations at your facility. Likewise, you may have some operations that aren’t mentioned in this article. The important thing to keep in mind is to be able to ship the best product possible to maximize your return.
 
RECEIVING/DRYING
 
When receiving grain you should be sampling it for moisture content, fines and cracks and making sure it does not contain molds, etc. Depending on the final market place, you may also have to check for specific GMO grain.
 
What is your policy for accepting or rejecting such grain and can you clearly document your actions? It is essential that you have policies and procedures in place for these situations. Depending on your market, there may also be government regulations that you must adhere to. You will then determine the necessity of cleaning and drying the grain.
 
It is highly recommended that the grain be cleaned prior to drying if it contains a large amount of fines and cracked kernels. The drying efficiency will be greatly improved by doing this, which will lower your drying costs. This may also reduce the risk of dryer fires.
 
Keeping a clean, well-maintained dryer is a must for any operation. Prior to the harvesting season your dryers should have been properly cleaned, checked for worn parts and made ready for a new season. Carefully monitor the grain coming out of the dryer to make sure you are not removing more moisture than necessary. The amount of time you are going to store the grain and your local climate will have a large impact on how dry the grain must be.
 
STORAGE
 
After the storage structure is emptied, it should be completely cleaned and checked for any problems in the structure itself. Grain residue left in the structure can be a location for insect infestation, mold occurrence and the start of structural damage. It is also recommended to spray around the interior and exterior of the structure at ground level with an approved insecticide. The base should be carefully checked to make sure water cannot seep into the structure.
 
If the grain is not cleaned prior to drying, it should be cleaned prior to putting it into storage. If possible, a spreader should be used during the filling process. If a spreader isn’t used or it isn’t practical, the storage structure should be cored to remove the buildup of fines in the center of the grain mass. By doing this, you improve the aeration of the grain and greatly reduce the possibility of spoilage and prospect of insects in this location.
 
AERATION
 
Proper aeration can be one of the best methods for maintaining the quality of the stored grain. It is important to note that the quality cannot be improved while in storage, but improper maintenance can certainly reduce the quality. Once the grain has been stored, it is essential that it be cooled to at least 35 to 38 degrees F (2 to 3 degrees C) if possible.
 
Depending on the climate at harvest time, it may take 400 to 500 hours of continuous fan operation to cool the grain to the desired temperature. It is important that the fans not be turned off once the aeration process begins. Often operators want to turn the fans off during high humidity or rainy periods, but this can create more harm than will be done by allowing them to run.
 
Cooling the grain will reduce or eliminate insect and mold activity. Once the grain is cooled to the desired temperature, the fans should be blocked so that air cannot move into the structure.
 
Gravity vents and roof exhausters are a necessity in today’s operation. With the bottom fans blocked, the roof exhausters can be run to keep heat buildup or condensation from occurring in the roof area. A temperature monitoring system is also highly encouraged so that you can see what is happening to the grain during the storage period. Just be sure to check your system on a regular basis. Checking once a month is not adequate to know if problems are occurring.
 
With many of the electronic systems that are being marketed, it is possible to get updates on your home computer or I-phones.
 
If you are in a location where the climate doesn’t allow you to cool the grain to the recommended temperatures, you will have to consider alternatives such as fumigation to make sure there is minimal or no insect activity. You may also have to dry the grain to lower moisture content than desired to eliminate the possibility of mold growth. While it will certainly cost you to over-dry the grain, the loss will almost certainly not be as high as it would be if the grain spoils or is severely damaged due to insects.
 
GRAIN HANDLING
 
The method you use to move grain from one location to the next can have an impact on your operation. If the methods being used cause significant damage to the grain, reductions in what you receive in payment can be impacted.
 
It is also important to make sure units handling different types of grain are properly cleaned after each operation to ensure there is no cross over.
 
Proper maintenance of the equipment is extremely important. An unnecessary breakdown during the loading of a train, barge, etc., can be very costly. Failing bearings, rubbing belts and similar types of issues have caused more than one fire in grain operations. The use of proper monitoring equipment can warn you of impending problems or failures before they occur.
 
HOUSEKEEPING
 
Maintaining a clean facility is not only good business, it is becoming a necessity. As governments become more involved in food safety, they will be making inspections of your facilities.
 
What does your receiving/sampling area look like? Is there grain all over the floor and dust and cobwebs everywhere? What does the area around the facility look like? Are their piles of spoiled grain, dead rodents or live insects
around the facility? What about weeds and worn out equipment stored on the grounds of your facility?
 
All of the above situations may give an inspector the idea that good housekeeping isn’t a priority. And if that isn’t important, then does management really care about maintaining a safe grain supply? There is no question that harvest season is extremely hectic, but that is no excuse to ignore good procedures for maintaining a clean, organized facility during that time or all year long.
 
RECORDKEEPING
 
Maintaining good records is also essential for a good grain operation. While there is currently nothing in place that requires traceability of the grain received and shipped, knowing where the grain comes from and what its condition is when received is just good business.

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