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Wheat &Chaff – for Nov. 7, 2011

ADDING MOISTURE TO GRAIN

It s quite common for me to get requests for articles that are two or three years old. With the help of our digital archives (available to all subscribers at www.grainews.ca;

click on Digital edition in the top right-hand corner), it s relatively easy to find your favourite articles on your own. Even still, I often find myself on the phone with a reader digging into the last five years of issues to find a certain story.

What is rare, however, is receiving several phone calls for the same story in a matter of weeks. That s exactly what happened this October. I ve actually lost count of the number of farmers looking for a 2009 story about how one farmer in Alberta added moisture to grain. What s also interesting is that the calls came from each Prairie province a rarity, that s for sure. But hot, dry harvest weather seemed to be nearly universal this year (sorry, farmers in the Peace Region of Alberta, I know you are one of the few exceptions).

The problem with too-dry grain, of course, is that you have fewer tonnes to sell. When the How I added water to grain article by Mark Horvath ran in the November, 2009, issue ofGrainews,canola was about $7 a bushel. At that paltry sum (by today s standards), Horvath estimated that selling canola at six per cent moisture versus 10 would cost him $1,071 per 3,600-bushel bin. With today s prices, that figure is nearly double. The time, effort and learning curve required to add moisture to grain certainly seems worth it with those kind of numbers.

Horvath, through trial and error, figured it took about 40 gallons of water to bring 500 bushels of canola up one per cent of moisture. He also figured that all it took was some duct tape to attach the hose and a quick-running auger to get good coverage. The ride from home to the elevator was typically enough for the wet-looking grain to even out the moisture content and test just fine. Horvath does say in his article that not only did he make some money on the moisture top-up, but he also had lower dockage on the rewetted grain.

Are there risks with doing this? Of course. You could add too much water, or if coverage is uneven you could end up creating wet pockets of grain that could pose a problem if the grain ends up sitting in the truck for any length of time. But don t take my word for it look up the article online, or dig out your old issues ofGrainewsfor the full details. Let me know how it works out, if you do try it!

GRAIN MARKETING AND FARM FINANCE

The November issue ofGrainewsis the grain marketing and farm finance issue. This month, Neil Blue spells out how to weigh the true cost of storage versus the eventual price you receive for your grain (page 28). It seems a simple concept on the surface, but it s always a good idea to take the little extra time to compare not just the capital cost of the storage, but also the opportunity or interest cost of holding inventory. The extra 50 cents a bushel gleaned a few months down the line may not look so sweet once you calculate interest paid on loans in the same time period.

Along the lines of farm finance, Earl Smith does a great job of laying out measuring your farm s return on assets and return on investment (page 26). These numbers are helpful internally to gauge how your farm is doing year over year, but also to gauge whether new investment is better made off the farm. As always, a current net worth statement is the starting point. Fall and early winter is the perfect time to tackle this project (if you don t have software doing it for you already).

Marianne Stamm relates her own personal experiences with the incredible rise in land prices in her home area of Alberta (page 23), and asks the question When is land too expensive? The answer, it seems, is at least somewhat dependent on how close that land is to your home quarter. Is that always the smartest move when land prices are sky high? In hindsight, yes, sometimes it is, but there s also such thing as spreading resources far too thin. Stamm reminds us that buying land should be a financial decision, not an emotional one, but that s sometimes easier said than done.

RIGHT RATE BY FIELD, NOT BY CROP

Now to switch gears to agronomy. This summer, as I toured around at field days and demo plots, an interesting discussion came up do you develop a crop-specific fertilizer blend in the spring, or do you change rates based on the field? Interestingly, many farmers were closer to running a basic canola or wheat blend than they were fine tuning rates by field. Yes, it s likely you wouldn t put sulphur down with cereals but you would with canola, but realistically you could be leaving yield on the table or be mining your soils if you re applying fertilizer at general rates across the farm.

At the outset, it would take a bit of work (depending on your record-keeping, soil-testing history, etc.) to get a good baseline of existing soil nutrients and determine the nutrient-providing capacity of the soil, but once the hard work is done, it does get easier. With a good baseline to work from, keeping track of fertilizer added and crop yields (and don t forget to add or subtract the value in the residue depending on what you do with it!) should start to paint a picture as to what field-specific rates should look like. For more on the topic, read Jason Casselman s story on page 5.

THE BATTLE FOR THE BOARD

I d be a terrible agricultural journalist indeed if I didn t at least mention the political drama and mayhem unfolding in Ottawa and the Prairies over the government s recent bill to end the Canadian Wheat Board s single-desk powers. Just this week theGlobe and Mailis reporting that several Conservative MPs should abstain from voting on Bill C-18 (the bill to end the single desk) because they have a vested interest in grain-farming operations. Before that there was mudslinging going on between the National Farmers Union and Manitoba s Keystone Agricultural Producers due to KAP not throwing money into the pro-board movement. Of course, that s not even starting to talk about the various pro-and anti-board press releases filtering in to my inbox each day.

I hesitate to even wade into the debate, as, in all honesty, I don t necessarily feel my opinion really matters any. After all, I don t market any grain. I certainly do have questions about what the open or dual market will look like. How will short line railways be affected? Will producer car loading sites be protected? And on the other side, I do wonder how the board figures it s fair to use ALL permit book holders money to fight the government when a good number of them support the government s decision. That doesn t seem fair, and I wager that if funds were collected based on deliveries from pro-monopoly farmers, the funding pool would be very shallow indeed.

From this outsider s point of view, it s most certainly an interesting time to be a part of agriculture. I haven t been in this business that long, but even three or four years ago I never would have thought the end of the board s monopoly would have happened in my lifetime. In my mind, it will. Others disagree, of course, but time will tell.

I do see letters to the editor now and again on the topic, but many of them are form letters sent to every publication out there. If you d like to see your opinions printed in a Grainviews section of this magazine, please be sure to send me an exclusive letter. Keep it to 300 to 400 words and be sure to sign your name and hometown. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

Lyndsey

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