Moisture, insects depreciating Prairie crop quality

CNS Canada — Less grain and oilseeds being shipped off the Prairies this past winter means farmers are keeping more grain in storage, which some producers say can be a risky business.

Carrying crops over to the next spring brings many challenges that could cause grain to lose quality. Condensation and moisture in bins and silos are among those challenges.

“They (the grains and oilseeds) lose value, ultimately,” said Doug Chorney, president of Manitoba farm group Keystone Agricultural Producers. “That’s the price you pay for having quality degradation.”

Moisture in bins will not only depreciate the value of the commodity, he said, but it will also make it vulnerable to even bigger problems.

“The risk when you have spoilage from moisture is that it attracts insects or creates the habitat for insects that causes an insect infestation, which makes it unmarketable,” said Chorney. “So your grain could go from being worth market price to nothing. It could actually be worthless.”

Canola is one of the most vulnerable crops when it comes to spoilage from moisture, he said.

“It’s just the nature of canola, it’s an oilseed and it has very small compact area with minimal air transfer within the grain mass so it doesn’t aerate as easily as coarse grains,” he said. “It actually gets so bad with canola that it can ignite inside the bin and destroy the bin plus the canola. It’s a big problem.”


As for what happens to the spoiled crop, Chorney said it might still be somewhat salvageable.

“Best-case scenario is it’s heavily discounted down to sample,” he said. “In the case of canola, it can’t be sold into a regular crushing facility for canola oil, it would have to go to some sort of bird feed market. The lowest-quality grain will go to the lowest-value markets.”

Having grains damaged by moisture is a huge setback, but leaving the grain in the moisture for too long can cause for even more damages, he said.

“The sample grade is absolutely devastating, and of course losing it completely there would be zero return,” said Chorney. “With storing the grain too long, perhaps you lose price but if you lose the grain, that’s a real big hit for a farmer.”

Moving grain to another bin and aeration are among the ways producers can try to prevent a bad situation getting worse.

KAP vice-president Curtis McCrae said winter works like a refrigerator with stored grains, but if you get crusting in the containers, you have to move the grain before it turns into condensation.

“Usually it’s either good or not good. There’s really no mid-grade,” he said. “It’s a matter of moving your grain during that three- or four-day window before the ground thaws.”

Canadian canola ending stocks at the close of 2013-14 are currently forecast at 3.3 million tonnes by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, well ahead of the 608,000 tonnes carried over the previous year.

Wheat ending stocks for 2013-14 are currently forecast at 11.8 million tonnes, more than double the 5.1 million tonnes reported the previous year.

— Marney Blunt writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.


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