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Harvesting Small Grains

 
master pollinator
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Katie and I are thinking about dabbling in raising small grains like oats, wheat, rye, etc.

We did not come to that idea lightly, in fact our 9th generational farm has a prior history of raising small grains, and we have grown small grains with huge success for years for use as a green manure. Almost more importantly though, two towns away from us there is a woman that buys small grains for her bread making business, and I have talked with her at length and she needs more grain to mill. I thought maybe Katie and I would over-produce for her, as we have 103 acres that we can dedicate to small grains right now, and yet I was surprised when the woman said she would buy all that we could produce.

So that means we know our farm has the fertility and soil to grow small grains, we have experience growing small grains, have much of the equipment that we need to till and sow small grains, and even have an eager local market to buy what we produce. But what we do not have is actual experience in harvesting small grains.

Getting a harvester is no big deal, but so many other questions remain, like how dry does grain have to be prior to storage? I cannot imagine that it is harvested off the field and then stored, as it would most likely be wet and start to ferment. Does a small grain farmer need a dryer of some sort?

And what is needed for a storage facility? I know most places have steel silos, but that would be vry expensive. I have seen big companies use something like a concrete silage bunker and then put the grain in that, pushing it up with big bulldozers, but is that long-term storage, or just short-term storage? It would seem to me that it is not very sanitary (rats)?

If Katie and I sell our house, we will be 100% debt free, and while we could get a big USDA Loan to start this venture, we do NOT want to get back into debt. That mans getting into this in a cost effective way. Since we have so much other stuff, the only thing we can see missing is a combine, dryer, and storage facility. Am I missing something though?

We would like to put some idle farmland to good use, but we are not sure what that would look like.


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10 Acres of Oats 2017
 
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From what I have seen of conventional ag around me. You end up waiting until the grain is dry or mostly dry before harvesting.

One thing the conventional farmers have is a propane dryer to finish drying the grain.

That said what would the old timers have done? One thing that I remember from the Little House on the Prarie is that they had seed grain stored in the wall of their cabin.
 
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I think it depends how far back in time you want to go.  What did they do 10, 50, 100 years ago in Maine for grain?  I'm guessing 100 years ago they did something like shocks standing out in the field.  Not sure about 50 or 10 years ago but I'm guessing it involved a dryer of some sort.  

You may want to check with the baker to verify she can really buy all the grain you can produce.  It would suck to grow 2,000 bushels (wild guess) and she can only use 200...
 
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I don't know a lot about grains.. but I have seen video of some fancy grain bin interior systems. These ones had a concrete pad, then a raised perforated floor over a plenum, with a MASSIVE fan bringing outside air under the plenum, and vents at the top... so the grain would be dried by running the fan when outside humidity was suitable, and even rehydrated if needed by running it in high humidity times.

Seems like a heater hooked up to that intake air would be necessary some places/times...

So, storage and drying combined... makes a lot of sense, and not super high tech.... the augers and blowers to move it all in and out of the bin looked like money though.
 
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For storage the magic number for moisture content is 15%, which unless you have a really expensive machine or a lot of time (and a scale and oven) is really useless information if you want to know if you can harvest now. Rule of thumb version is when you bite it and it crushes instead of squishes it is good to store(for a while).
As far as drying it goes, if you're going to be planting 100 acres you might want to look into renting/borrowing a large dryer or getting one of those steel silos.
However I've read about something called an aerator lance that is used for smaller amounts(hmmm and apparently really really large amounts too). Basically is a short piece of perforated pipe with an auger at the end, around 4-5ft of solid pipe and a squirrel cage fan on the end sucking air through the pipe.

Hope it all works out
 
Travis Johnson
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Mike Jay wrote:I think it depends how far back in time you want to go.  What did they do 10, 50, 100 years ago in Maine for grain?  I'm guessing 100 years ago they did something like shocks standing out in the field.  Not sure about 50 or 10 years ago but I'm guessing it involved a dryer of some sort.



I am not sure how they produced small grains on this farm back in the old days. I know they raised them from 1800-1838, but despite having written records from that era, there is no mention of how they did it exactly. There is some mention of cobbled up devices to make harvesting easier, and that sort of thing, but no list of how they did it from start to finish as a series of steps unfortunately. I do know the varieties are much different in Maine, only because we have so much moisture in our soil.

Mike Jay wrote:You may want to check with the baker to verify she can really buy all the grain you can produce.  It would suck to grow 2,000 bushels (wild guess) and she can only use 200...



I was concerned with that as well, but when we were talking, it was in terms of acres and not bushels, and she set me straight pretty quick when I made the assumption 100 acres was "a lot" in terms of grains for artesian bread production. She said that 100 acres was not much at all, and that she had several farmers growing 300-400 acres of small grains for her, but she needed a lot more. She further surprised me when she said that while it had to be locally produced, it did not even have to be organic. While it is not my intention of pitting conventional against organic practices, I bring that up because it tells me there is a pretty big market out there for her.

But as long as the crop did not rot, if she was unable to buy all of what I produce, some of it could be sold as animal feed. The profit margin would not be as good of course, but at least it could be sold, and some money gleaned from the cash crop.
 
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We still have all the equipment here for drying and storing grain, this grain was only used for animal feed (cow) but the principle is the same.

grain came directly in from the field was dumped into the pit in the floor of the barn where an auger takes it over the wall and into the silo for drying they had a large fan and a radiator connected to a oil water heater, the fan stands behind the radiator and blows warm air at the grain. how they held up the grain/what type of screen or whatever I don't know. from the silo (which is a partitioned off part of the barn around 10m by 10m by 8m high) it was augured out again and into the crusher to make crushed grains for direct feeding.

Saying that wheat should be harvested between 20 and 14% and storage is 13-11% so if you harvest dry you don't need to dry it afterwards, but weather is of course a factor!
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:Katie and I are thinking about dabbling in raising small grains like oats, wheat, rye, etc.

We did not come to that idea lightly, in fact our 9th generational farm has a prior history of raising small grains, and we have grown small grains with huge success for years for use as a green manure. Almost more importantly though, two towns away from us there is a woman that buys small grains for her bread making business, and I have talked with her at length and she needs more grain to mill. I thought maybe Katie and I would over-produce for her, as we have 103 acres that we can dedicate to small grains right now, and yet I was surprised when the woman said she would buy all that we could produce.

So that means we know our farm has the fertility and soil to grow small grains, we have experience growing small grains, have much of the equipment that we need to till and sow small grains, and even have an eager local market to buy what we produce. But what we do not have is actual experience in harvesting small grains.

Getting a harvester is no big deal, but so many other questions remain, like how dry does grain have to be prior to storage? I cannot imagine that it is harvested off the field and then stored, as it would most likely be wet and start to ferment. Does a small grain farmer need a dryer of some sort?

And what is needed for a storage facility? I know most places have steel silos, but that would be vry expensive. I have seen big companies use something like a concrete silage bunker and then put the grain in that, pushing it up with big bulldozers, but is that long-term storage, or just short-term storage? It would seem to me that it is not very sanitary (rats)?

If Katie and I sell our house, we will be 100% debt free, and while we could get a big USDA Loan to start this venture, we do NOT want to get back into debt. That mans getting into this in a cost effective way. Since we have so much other stuff, the only thing we can see missing is a combine, dryer, and storage facility. Am I missing something though?

We would like to put some idle farmland to good use, but we are not sure what that would look like.


Grains are usually harvested at 10 to 15% moisture Travis, In the south they can get to that point while still in the field, grains of this moisture level are usually taken straight to the grainery (Bunge, Riceland, etc.) where it is run through a dryer if it is going into a silo for storage prior to milling.
If you plan on holding the grain on the farm you would need some high flow fans to move air up through the grain to keep it from spoiling. (Bran Bugs will find it, which is the normal farm storage problem along with heating)
Long term storage of grains requires them to be in 10% to 8% or less moisture range. (there is a not too expensive moisture tester that uses 250 grams of the grain for the sample size and it is accurate enough that it is the one the USDA FGIS uses it)
this is the site all grain inspection companies use for supplies and equipment (that I know of) Seedburo

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