Early snow gives farmers reason to think

Cloudy, rainy, cooler weather has slowed the natural drying process of corn and soybeans.
Cloudy, rainy, cooler weather has slowed the natural drying process of corn and soybeans.

By Dan Martens
University of Minnesota Extension

The snow on Sunday Oct. 20, along with watching the October page on the calendar slip away, gives farmers a little more reason to think about getting on with the harvest as much as they can. For some, waiting could make sense. It’s an unusual year and your past experience and common sense counts.

Because of a late spring and rain delayed planting and replanting, crops are much less mature and much wetter than normal for this time of year. Farmers have been waiting for the crop to dry to avoid drying costs. Cloudy, rainy, cooler weather has also slowed the drying process. Farmers are also thinking about how much time they’ll have to do the rest of the fall work before the ground freezes or significant snow arrives.

Based on National Weather Service Information on Friday Oct. 25, the outlook through Nov. 7 leans toward below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation. It indicated even chances for normal weather for November as a whole.

Conserving drying fuel

There are some reports of tight supplies for propane used for grain drying due to a lot of corn and soybeans in the Upper Midwest requiring more drying than normal. It generally takes 0.02 gallons of propane per bushel per point of moisture removed. Propane is generally 98 percent of the energy cost with a little cost for electricity to run fans.

Keys to maximizing drying efficiency might include:

• Do a good job of cleaning fines and crop debris from the grain in combining and screening grain before going to the drier.

• Run the drier as hot as you can without doing damage to the grain. You can run heated air at 200 degrees on corn at 18 percent or higher without damage because the corn would not be expected to get hotter than 140 degrees in that moisture range. Turn the heat down if you continue to dry the corn below 18 percent.

• Dryeration or “steeping” the corn reduces the potential for damage to corn and can reduce energy costs by as much as 25 percent. “Steeping” means drying the corn to about 17 or 18 percent depending on final moisture targets; and then letting the grain set hot for 4 to 12 hours before cooling. This allows moisture to equalize through the kernel. Then turn fans on to cool the corn and take out another 2 to 3 points of moisture during cooling. This might remove 0.25 percent for each 10 degrees the gain is cooled.

It is best to move corn to a different bin because a lot of condensation can occur on bin walls where it is steeped. Otherwise be sure to move enough air to remove condensation.

It is generally thought that natural air drying takes about 1.5 kilowatt hours per bushel to dry from 22 percent to 15percent moisture when starting after Nov. 1. Natural air drying is much less efficient when average daily temperatures are 40 degrees or less. There is more risk to using natural air drying for corn that is wetter than 22 percent, depending on air temperatures and fan capacity. If the average air temperature gets too cold to finish drying in the fall, drying could be finished with hot air drying; or the crop can be kept cold through the winter with drying finished in the spring.

A good article about natural air drying can be found by doing a website search for “Minnesota Extension natural air drying.” You’re welcome to call the Extension office also. For questions about grain drying in Stearns, Benton and Morrison Counties, call me at 968-5077 or 1-800-964-4929.