After harvesting their plots, the next step for growers is to properly store the grain. I talked about this briefly in this post, but it’s important not to store grain when its moisture content is above about 15 percent.
Many farmers have on-farm bins to store grain. The bins you may see on a farm are often much more than oversized canisters; many farmers’ bins are equipped with a heating and drying system to bring the grain to the appropriate moisture content. Some bins, separate from those with dry-down capabilities, are strictly for long-term storage of the grain.
Having storage bins on the property can be really convenient. For one, the farmer doesn’t have to worry about moving the grain elsewhere (such as to an offsite grain elevator) during harvest, thus expediting the harvesting process. Also, using their own storage bins can also eliminate the need to pay another facility to dry down the grain, the cost of which immediately cuts into the farmer’s profit. And yet another convenience is that the grain stored onsite can be used to feed a farmer’s livestock.
However, with any decision on the farm, there are other things to consider. First, having onsite storage means that some of the farmer’s land will be used not to grow grain, but to store it. Plus, building and maintaining grain bins can be very pricey. The price to buy depends on the capacity of the grain bin, but it usually costs between $1.50-$2 per bushel – one site estimates that a 13,000 bushel capacity bin (the smallest grain bin available on that site) will cost at least $25,000. Keep in mind, too, that to operate the fan and heaters requires the additional cost of the power needed to do so.
It is not unusual for farmers to use more than one method to store grain. In other words, they may have grain bins that store some of their grain on their farm, and they may bring some of their grain to a nearby grain elevator.
Many folks who have traveled through farming communities have likely passed a grain elevator. Grain elevators are large-scale storage and drying facilities for grain. During harvest, farmers bring their grain to an elevator to be weighed, inspected for condition, stored, and eventually shipped out. During harvest, grain elevators can be particularly busy, and farmers may have to wait to unload their grain, which is a time expense for which farmers must be prepared.
After the grain (and we’re talking specifically about field corn) is dried down and stored, it’s gradually sold for processing or for livestock feed. The prices of corn vary from year to year and are determined by the stock market. Taken into account is how much land is farmed with that crop, the projection of how many bushels will yield that year, the demand for that crop, and more.
Corn pricing is complicated and is constantly reevaluated throughout the year. Since corn has thousands of uses in the market, it’s important for analysts and economists (and farmers!) to predict, as best as they can, the future numbers for corn – how much corn will the market demand, how much will yield in coming years, how much do inputs cost, etc. This information helps guide farmers in their decisions in planting more or less corn on their land the following years.
The average person might not realize how sophisticated the business and economics of farming can be, and farmers have to be on top of it to stay competitive. If you’re interested in learning more about what goes into the economics of farming (with an emphasis on corn), take a look here, here, and here.
We’ve spent all this time thus far discussing that farming corn is a lot more complicated than sticking a seed into dirt and hoping for the best. But even now, in the lull after harvest and before the winter holidays, farmers are working hard – prepping their fields, keeping their eyes on the market, planning for next year, and getting stuff ready for tax season. The corn may be safely tucked away in grain elevators, storage bins, or already off to processing, but the work still goes on.
Troy is formerly a high school Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor who is passionate about teaching Agronomics, Ag Science, and Plant Biology. Now the manager of the Monmouth Learning Center, Troy has led the Fantasy Farming Challenge for the past two years, helping hundreds of high school students to understand the choices farmers make against the challenges of weather, disease, weed management, and insect pressure.