“And to think just four months ago I was worried whether I should raise my bids to avoid losing volume. Of all the things I didn’t need to worry about, that should have been No. 1 on my list. Oh well — there wasn’t any way to know Harvest 2009 would be one for the history books.”
Dave lays his glasses on his desk and closes his eyes briefly — it’s been another 16-hour day and he feels every one of his 60 years. He has a small but good staff and they’re as exhausted as he is. The guys haven’t had two straight days off since early October, they’re still drying corn until midnight every day, and there’s a blizzard heading their way. Dave’s son Gary has been a big help but this is only Gary’s second harvest.
“Can’t stop now — I’ve got to go out and help the guys shut down the dryer. Wish we were bigger and I could afford an experienced superintendent...” Dave thinks to himself as he rises slowly, pulls on his heavy coat, and walks out the back door, his breath freezing in front of him in the cold. He knows this is the most dangerous time — when harvest is almost over, it’s late at night and everyone’s tired all the time. The guys go through a checklist to shut things down properly, but he wants to be there to spot any problems and make sure everybody is safe. With the equipment shut down, Dave finally is able to head home for another too short night.
The next morning Dave stops in town to pick up doughnuts for all the staff, eating one or two himself on the way to the elevator. He decided overnight that he has to spend time today evaluating what projects to tackle next, then chatted this morning with his friend Mike who manages the nearby co-op. “Not much point both of us attending last week’s National Grain and Feed Association conference and then not follow up on what we learned,” he told Mike. “You know it’s funny; last year our big issues were money and merchandising. This year looks like it’ll be about quality. I’ll let Gary work with the guys outside today — old Dad’s got to work on a few things,” he chuckles — “ . . . besides, that way Gary’ll get the credit for bringing the doughnuts.”
Dave retreats to his office and starts by thinking about what he heard from managers around the country at the NGFA meeting. 2009 has been a year of extremes. Planting was late, some areas had excess summer rains while other areas were too dry. Then in much of September, the weather turned cold and wet and stayed that way. The result was big crops, but of fair to often poor quality across many states — crops that pose special demands.
The Midsouth & Delta struggled through weeks of September rains that left managers dealing with high-moisture, damaged soybeans that had to be dried and were still hit with high discounts at the river.
Then the rains came, and late-maturing corn faced freezing temperatures in early October across the Corn Belt, stalling crop maturation. The irony is that corn and soybean yields are great, but quality is not. Corn test weight has been a widespread problem, often running 50 to 54 pounds instead of 54 to 58. Even in the best areas much of the corn stopped drying naturally, with a lot of corn harvested over 25%, some over 30%.
Many elevators have barely turned their dryers on in recent years and this season taxed both men and machines. Dave tries to recall when he last dried soybeans, and finally decided it was probably 20 years ago. “Little wonder dryers have been catching fire,” he mutters.
Corn moisture varied widely coming out of the fields, which made for uneven moistures going into the dryers. Dave recalls the comment from one speaker that “uneven moisture going into the dryer means it is still uneven moisture coming out — just at lower levels, and that can cause problems in bins in the months ahead.”