On-Farm Storage – Why Do They Do That?

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that Iowa had enough storage for 3.6 billion bushels of grain. 2.1 billion of those bushels were stored in what is called “on-farm storage.” That means farmers are drying and storing the grain they

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Photo by John Lambeth from Pexels

harvest in personal storage bins, not at a co-op. You can read about co-op storage here. You might be wondering what the difference is, or why farmers would want their own storage. Good questions!

Personal grain storage is different than a grain elevator or co-op in several ways. First of all, location. An ideal location for a grain elevator would be in a rural area with a lot of farmland very close so that farmers don’t need to haul freshly-harvested grain many miles to get it dried and stored. An ideal elevator is also located near a railroad or waterway, like the Mississippi River, so the transport of grain from the elevator could happen efficiently, rather than having to haul the grain again.

Location is also very important to farmers when they decide to build on-farm grain storage. In order to use their on-farm storage most efficiently, they need to build in an area that is close to several of the fields they farm, if possible. Smaller grain storage facilities could be used for just one or two fields, but many modern grain storage facilities are being built to hold several fields worth of grain. Building in close proximity to several of their fields allows farmers to save time during harvest. During harvest, a combine usually dumps grain into a grain cart, which then dumps it into a semi to take to a grain storage facility. If the semi is having to haul grain a distance, it can slow down the process if the combine and grain cart are both full before the semi can get back.

Farmers build their own on-farm grain storage for several reasons; this blog post will highlight three of them.

Marketing

This is the big one! Marketing is incredibly important to farmers, as it can allow them to get higher prices for their crops. Instead of hauling the grain into the elevator or co-op right away, farmers can choose to wait to sell their grain if they think they can get a higher price later on. “You can delay sales three to six months into the future and be paid well for your patience ($0.20 – $0.40 per bushel)”- Hertz Blog. This gives farmers the opportunity to make more money each year for their crop, if they market it well. For more information on how farmers market their crops, check this blog out.

Time

On our family farm, our large on-farm grain storage site is three miles or less from the majority of our fields. That is four miles closer than the nearest co-op, and that distance IMG_2056does make a difference in how fast we are able to harvest. There’s never a line at our on-farm storage site of other trucks trying to deliver corn. Our site also does not close down at a certain time. Co-ops are not always staffed to operate the facilities all night, but many farmers need to work late into the night to get all of their crops in, especially during years when harvesting conditions haven’t been ideal. It can sometimes feel like a race to get a crop in before snow comes, especially in Iowa when severe weather often happens very unexpectedly! By using on-farm storage, the race to get a crop in can be lessened.

Drying

When corn is ready to be harvested, it has 15-25% moisture. If the moisture is more than 15%, it must be dried before it can be stored. That is where a corn dryer comes in. This is essential for grain storage if a farmer is harvesting corn that is even a little bit wet, as wet corn can get moldy when stored. Co-ops have grain dryers, but if a farmer is using on-farm storage, it is cheaper for farmers to dry their own corn. There are many different kinds of grain dryers, but an estimate of an initial cost for one would be around $100,000. Prices can definitely go up from there. The initial investment is a significant one, but when used over many years, the return on investment (ROI) proves it to be a worthy investment. The other option that farmers have is drying their corn at a co-op before storing it there. This costs more for farmers, but comes with the convenience of not having to buy a corn dryer. Here is a comparison of on-farm drying vs commercial drying.

On-farm storage allows for the United States to produce more corn than we use here. We are able to use corn that is stored across the country to export to other countries. According to the National Corn Grower’s website, “Exports are responsible for 33 percent of U.S. corn farmers’ income. More than 20 percent of the U.S. corn crop is exported annually when accounting for corn and value-added products like ethanol and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS).” If we did not have on-farm storage, the corn crop would not be able to be stored and exported throughout the year without significant changes in our co-ops.

Unfortunately, on August 10, 2020, Iowa lost a significant amount of grain storage in the IMG_2057derecho. Straight line winds, some reaching estimated speeds of 140 mph, crumpled many bins. Co-ops and on-farm storage units both suffered in the storm. Corn was also flattened in the storm. The USDA’s Risk Management Agency estimated that 8.2 million acres of corn were impacted by the storm. Some of that corn will not be able to be harvested, so the demand for grain storage may go down some. Many farmers will be turning to alternative methods to get their crops out of the fields and try to make some money, and Iowa grain storage construction companies will be busier than ever before. No matter what, it will be important for farmers to rebuild their on-farm storage grain bins as quickly as possible to be ready for next year’s harvest.

-Ellie

How to “Look Under the Label”

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a women’s group at the 5th Annual Women Gaining Ground Conference presented by Women, Land & Legacy. There we were, many different women with many different backgrounds. Some in attendance were married with kids still living at home, while others were single and maybe still in school. And, there were women present who were wise with lots of valuable life experience. As I looked towards the audience and began my presentation, I pointed out a commonality that we all shared – we all eat!

I don’t know about you, but I try to eat three meals a day, with a snack in-between. As mothers and grandmothers, we feed not only ourselves, but our families too. Our families are the most important thing in the world to us, so we want to feed them the best and the healthiest options we can afford. A quick glance around any grocery store and you’ll be bombarded with many different messages. Grocery store aisles surround us with marketing messages including various food labels, that are trying to get our attention, capture our pocketbooks and claim that status of best and healthiest.

How marketing impacts food labeling

But what is the real story behind these labels? What do they mean? How can we sort out marketing speak from factual information that can have an impact on our health? The definition of marketing is “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” So, if food labels are marketing, what does this mean for us and how do they affect our decisions at the grocery store?

First, it’s important to recognize there are four types of food labels.

  1. Nutrition Facts labels: These are usually on the back or side of the packaging and are required by law on most packaged foods providing details of nutritional content.
  2. Health Claim labels: These describe the relationship between food and its health benefits or the reduced risk of a disease.
  3. Nutrient Content Claims labels: These are usually found on the front of the packaging and are voluntarily placed by food processing companies to help market their product.
  4. Farm Production Style labels: These describe the type of farming practices used, or not used in producing the food.

While looking at these labels, we should ask ourselves two questions. Is this label telling me something about the product? Or, is it using marketing tactics to convince me to buy the product? In researching the topic of food labeling, these two questions have challenged me to look at grocery shopping in a new way. When I pick up an item off of the shelf I have been asking myself, “Did the label tell me about an item or did the label sell me on an item?”

Labels that ‘tell you’ identify food with an objective, measurable difference from one package or brand to another. The “No Added Sugar” label is an ideal example. This claim can be measured in grams of sugar and verified using the Nutrition Facts Label which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Choosing a diet with foods low in added sugar has been scientifically proven to help people maintain a healthy weight.

Labels that ‘sell you’ separate foods that don’t actually contain a measurable difference in safety, nutrition or other factors. While these foods may be produced in different ways (eggs produced by chickens housed in cages verses hens in free-range housing) the end product provides the same levels of food safety, quality, and nutrition.

No HFCS, Non-GMO – No Matter the Label, it’s still Marketing

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If a label reads, “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” what does that lead you to believe? Possibly that HFCS is bad? That you should pay more for a product that does not contain HFCS?actually no hfcs

 

Table sugar (typically sucrose which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose) is readily available to the cells in the body to produce energy. High fructose corn syrup is chemically very similar (usually 55% fructose and 42% glucose). So, the claim seems to be a marketing ploy. But, in general too much sugar of any kind (fructose, sucrose, glucose) in the diet is the problem, not necessarily the type of sugar.

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When a product is labeled “Non-GMO” what does that lead you to believe?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a hot topic when it comes to food and food labeling products in the United States. You would think GMOs have bombarded the produce section of the grocery store. You would think it is difficult to avoid GMO fruits and vegetables. But the reality is there are only ten approved varieties of GMO plants. Of those crops, only five could be found in the produce section. They are sweet corn, papaya, potatoes, squash, and the Arctic Apple. (The Arctic Apple won’t be widely available on store shelves for a few more years.

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Now what about “organic”?

Are they grown differently? Are they healthier? Are they pesticide free?

 

 

actually organic

We can use an analogy to illustrate the difference between a conventional and an organic farm. If you had a tree that needed to be removed, then you would need a tool to cut it down. You could use an ax, a hand saw, a chain saw, or a larger tree cutting machine to get the job done. Each of these tools have pros and cons. Different people see different advantages and disadvantages of each tool and have a different opinion of which tool is “best” for the job.

In organic farming, the farmer only gets to use a limited set of tools. In the case of our tree maybe they just use the ax or the handsaw. Conventional farming has the choice of using a lot more tools including different pesticides, fertilizers, biotechnology, etc. This is represented in our analogy by getting to use any or all of the four tools to cut down the tree. Farmers use different “tools” to grow crops and depending on what they use determines whether they are considered organic or conventional.

By now, I am sure you have started thinking about how food labels impact consumer choices. Consumer choices directly impact the decisions farmers make in the production of our food. To learn more about food labeling and how food is grown visit www.iowaagliteracy.org where you will find this and other classroom lessons.

-Melanie

Farming By Numbers

Soybeans harvested by students

“So, what number soybeans are these?” asks a fourth-grade student in a class I presented to this fall. I had come to his school to teach about agriculture. More specifically, I came to teach about the life cycle of a soybean plant. I gathered mature soybean plants from fields and delivered them to local classrooms to be “harvested”. Students then planted the harvested soybeans in a mini green house with grow lamps to help the beans sprout quickly. During my second classroom visit they examined the new spouts and labeled each plant part.

After being stumped by a nine-year-old, I paused for a moment. He was putting my agricultural knowledge to the test. I was hesitant to tell him that I didn’t know, but mostly I was impressed. This young man knew there were different soybeans with different numbers. Fewer and fewer students are growing up on the farm. But, this student reminded me that there are still a few tried and true farmers in most of the classrooms I visit.

“I am not sure.” I told him, “but I can sure find out.”

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was that if you don’t know the answer, make sure you keep asking until you do. Go find out. So that is what I did. I went to my husband, a third-generation farmer, and asked him. He went to his seed dealer and asked him “What number soybeans did we put on the homeplace?” Our seed dealer was able to tell us because of an identification system used by seed companies. Types of seed are labeled with numbers that identify the characteristics of the seed that is to be planted. That way if a farmer is satisfied with the performance of the seed they could choose to replant that same seed next year.  An example of a seed number could look like this:

“Refer to bag tag for specific trait information”

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• X would indicate the brand or company that produced the seed
• The first two numbers could indicate the maturity of the seed, that is, how long it takes to plant to be ready for harvest
• The next two numbers would be for more specific identification
• And lastly, the letters on the end could indicate what types of traits that seed possesses

Soil map of farm in Harrison County
Test plot

Seed numbers provide more information about what a farmer is planting. Farmers have a lot of choices when it comes time to plant. Because not every field is the same, specific seed choices allow farmers to pinpoint exactly what they want grown on the field and where. Say you are headed to the grocery store for a warm winter meal. As you enter the soup aisle the cans don’t all just say “soup”. You know what kind of soup you are getting by reading the label. You identify what type you are looking for and choose one that fits your requirements. Clam chowder might be a good choice, but not if you are hungry for tomato.

With the limited amount of space that farmers can grow food for ourselves and our animals, it is important that we do the best we can with the space that we do have. The cost of raising a crop is substantial. It is very important for farmers to make the best use of every soybean seed and every kernel of seed corn that comes out of a bag – all 80,000 of them in the case of seed corn. Farmers map out each specific area, utilizing every acre to its maximum potential.

As a kid, I used to love the paint-by-number artwork. Each section had a corresponding color and if you got the numbers right… success! In some ways, successful farming can be “by the numbers” too. Farmers work with agronomists to test the soil in different areas of their farms. By using the results of these soil maps and by working closely with their seed dealers, a farmer can put the corresponding seed number in the appropriate soil types…success!

As I continue to visit classrooms in the area, students are using their young minds to expand my own knowledge. They ask questions and want to know more. No matter how prepared I think that I am for a classroom presentation, there is always an unexpected question (or two or three).
“Why do these soybean pods have little hairs on them?”
“How come your grow lamp has red and blue lights?”
“Can we eat the soybeans?”

Teaching for Loess Hills Agriculture in the Classroom is a job that will never get boring. If students continue to have questions about agriculture, then I will continue to answer them or seek out someone who is familiar with farming by numbers.

-Melanie

Why Do They Do That? – Antibiotics

I recently was at the meat counter of a local grocery store and was noticing several prime cuts of meat. They all looked delicious. I was already imagining a slow roasted brisket for St. Patrick’s Day. But I noticed some of the cuts were labeled hormone free and antibiotic free. Sounds great! I don’t want any weird stuff in my meat. But if antibiotics in meat are such a bad thing, then why do farmers use them?

beef_cow25.jpgJust like humans, livestock sometimes get sick. When they get sick, farmers what to do whatever they can to help get them healthy again. The first step is to (if possible) separate sick animals from the rest of the herd. This helps minimize the spread of an infection or illness – especially if it is at all contagious. The second step is to call the veterinarian. Just like doctors prescribe antibiotics for sick humans, veterinarians prescribe antibiotics for sick animals. The antibiotics are administered with the supervision of the vet.

Careful records are kept, too. The farmer and the vet know exactly how much of an antibiotic was given. They keep record of the date and record of exactly which animal it was given to. Antibiotics are medicines that inhibit the growth of or destroy microorganisms – specifically harmful strains of bacteria. Eventually, after the antibiotic has targeted the harmful bacteria it will start to break down in the body and be eliminated from the animal’s system. The time that it takes for the antibiotic to break down is known as the withdrawal period. Different antibiotics will have different withdrawal times and interact a little differently in different animals and different types of tissues in the body.

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Sometimes the withdrawal period is short (1-2 days), sometimes it is long (2-3 weeks). Knowing withdrawal times and keeping record of when animals were given antibiotics is important. Dairy animals cannot be milked and meat animals cannot be harvested until after they have passed the withdrawal period. Milk and meat are both tested as a safety measure to ensure there are not traces of antibiotics. Following these withdrawal periods means that none of the meat at the grocery store has antibiotics in it.

But then I noticed another label that said ‘raised without antibiotics‘. This means that the animals were never given antibiotics. Either they never got sick (always the goal anyway) or if they did get sick those animals were separated and not sold with that label. In cattle, horses and other animals, antibiotics are primarily given in a case by case scenario – only as needed.

chicken8.jpgBut poultry (chickens and turkeys) and swine (pigs) can be a little different. Poultry and swine are raised with many animals in the same building. Chickens like to flock together and pigs like each other’s company. But if one animal gets sick, there is the potential that the entire flock or herd would get sick. Farmers sometimes choose not to take this risk and add antibiotics into the animal feed so that all animals receive antibiotics. For young animals that haven’t had enough time to develop their immune system, the intent is to help keep them healthy. The use of these antibiotics are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA. But animals who have had antibiotics added to their food are still subject to the withdrawal period before they are harvested so there are no antibiotics in the meat at the butcher counter.

Antibiotics seem like they are really important for animal health. And with appropriate regulations in place and safety checks, I feel confident that there are no antibiotic residues in my meat. I think I will go ahead and get that brisket and look forward to some corned beef!

-Will

How Does it Work: Grain Elevators

Farmers plant corn in their field in late April and May and in the fall corn is harvested by a grain combine. Once the corn is harvested (usually in September, October, or November) it is dried and stored on a farm or in a grain elevator and from there is shipped to mills and refineries. So, how does a grain elevator work?

Combines harvest grain out of the field and transfer it to a grain cart or directly into a truck that can carry the crop to the grain elevator. Grain elevators are located near railways or waterways to accommodate shipping the grain out after being processed. Elevators are generally in small rural areas which is less distance for the farmer to haul the grain. It is easy to recognize the grain elevator. 1It is sometimes the tallest building in town, between 70 to 120 feet tall!

The truck carrying the grain pulls into the local grain elevator and then stops on the scale at the elevator to be weighed. The operator takes a sample of the grain to test for the weight, moisture content and to check for any foreign materials present. Foreign materials could consist of chewed up corn, stalks, weeds or trash. To store grain, the moisture content needs to be around 15% or the grain might mold at higher percentages or be too dry at lower percentages. If the grain is too wet farmers have to pay to have it dried at the elevator. Either one of these scenarios will lower the cost per bushel.

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The grain is then dumped from the truck to a work floor of the elevator. The work floor is an open, slatted floor where the grain dumps into pit and will then travel on a continuous belt that has buckets attached to scoop up the grain and then deposits it into silos. This bucket system elevates the grain taking it from the floor to the top of the silo (thus the whole facility is called a grain elevator). The empty truck will drive back to the scale to weigh the truck again. This will tell the elevator operator how much corn was unloaded.

The farmer will be given a receipt called a weight or scale ticket. This ticket will tell the number of bushels calculated as being brought to the elevator. It is important for the  farmer to know the weight of the grain that was dumped. Corn is sold by the bushel and the standard weight of a bushel is 56 pounds. It is the measurement for weight when buying or selling crops. The ticket will be a record of delivery for the farmer. The scale ticket will show the date, quantity, kind of grain and quality of the grain being delivered. It will also tell if the grain is to be sold or stored.

Grain elevators were created to hold crops being purchased or available for resale, and 7to help with the problem of storing grain. The essential function of storage is to protect the grain from the elements and allow for it to be stored and tracked for quality and temperature. The inside building houses a vertical storage with bins that allows for easy transport of the grain. Proper storage is of utmost importance. If the crop is left in the field it can have reduced return on investment due to insects, mold and birds or rodents. Crops must be clean. The moisture content is a major factor for storing safely. High moisture can lead to mold and fungus. As grains reach maturity the moisture content diminishes.

Storage of grain will allow flexibility to the farmer to use marketing and possibly receive season price increases. There is a cost incurred for storing grains, so the farmer must decide based on storage capacity and expected returns after storage. If selling the crop later for a price that exceeds the current selling price is the better decision, the farmer will choose to store the grain. Proper use of storage will potentially increase the income cost for the grain. However, the farmer will need to take into consideration storage costs, which can include facility cost, interest on grain inventory, extra drying of the grain, shrinkage of the grain and handling fees.

Farmers have choices on how to sell their grain. They can choose to do a forward contract and sell to a grain dealer at any time. A forward contract allows the farmer to know exact price, exact quantity and date of delivery. The downside is if prices go up, the farmer is already locked into the forward contract. If the farmer does choose to store the grain and sell later, he can sell to ethanol plants, bio-diesel plants or to livestock feed producers. The farmer will negotiate prices and will choose to sell throughout the year. Keeping in mind the cost to store and the importance of keeping the grain suitable for purchase.

When the grain is sold it may leave the   elevator it may be into a rail car, truck or barge. Gravity is usually used to load grains from bins to the loading station. The process of loading and a reversal of the process for unloading. The empty truck pulls onto the scales and is weighed. The truck will pull under the spout and the grain will load back into the truck. Both the trucker and the elevator operator watch the gauges to know when to shut off the grain. The truck will pull back onto the scales to get an accurate weight and then will deliver the load to the destination.

There is so much more to agriculture. The process of getting the grain to and from the elevator is full of important steps, none of which can be omitted. I realize that the job of farming has so many aspects that go unnoticed, but are vital to the result which is food, fuel and fiber for the hungry world. I send a huge thank you to the Farmers!

– Sheri

 

There’s a New Competition, and the Steaks are High

There’s an exciting new competition in Iowa for elementary, middle school, and high school students. It’s called High Steaks, and it’s a beef marketing competition.

High Steaks

This program is exciting because it offers students the opportunity to think critically about a product they may consume regularly, and think about what factors consumers pay attention to. It’s also exciting, because there will be prizes for the top three submissions in each division!

High Steaks is open to classes from 3rd grade to 12th grade. There are three divisions; one for elementary students (grades 3-5), one for middle school students (grades 6-8), and one for high school (grades 9-12). The purpose of the competition is the same for all divisions, but the requirements differ slightly in each division.

In the elementary division, students will choose a beef product to market, and will submit a poster to advertise it. In the middle school division, students will also choose a beef product or recipe, and will create a marketing plan and nutritional overview of the product. High school students will complete all of the steps as the middle school students, with an additional market analysis that includes a target audience and a cost analysis.

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Each division will have three winners. First place will receive $200 and a BBQ lunch, courtesy of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. Second place will receive $100, and third place will receive $50. All winners will also get a printed certificate and a personalized FarmChat® of a beef farm.

This program could fit well into many types of classrooms. An elementary social studies unit could include this project to talk about producers and consumers, spending and saving, and competition in the marketplace. A middle school health class could use this project to analyze health benefits of certain products. A high school business class could use this project to help students realize careers in marketing, food science, advertising, and even graphic design. In fact, this program could be used as a starting point for FCCLA and FFA students to fit guidelines for specific competitions.

Teachers who register their classrooms to participate will also receive a packet of helpful materials, including copies of the book My Family’s Beef Farm with accompanying lesson plans, a lesson plan titled Beef: A Healthy Option, and an educator guide for the documentary True Beef. Registration is free, and will be open until January 15, 2018. Register by filling out this form. You can find the full rules here.

Consider letting your class participate, or passing on the information to a teacher you know! For an added sense of competition, one classroom can create multiple submissions to compete against each other! We at IALF are very excited to see students’ creativity, innovation, and great ideas. We hope you are, too!

-Chrissy