Preparing For An Organic Harvest

Harvest time can come at different times of the year, depending on what we grow. Right now, in the midwest, the #2 yellow corn is just starting to turn, and trucks are busy hauling grains to clean out the bins in preparation for the upcoming harvest. The process is slightly different for organic production and two of the people that I have looked up to for years, Mary-Howell & Klaas Martens the owners of Lakeview Organic Grain published a series of articles in the Acres USA magazine back in 2002 that still provide sound advice; along with my own experiences that I would like to share with you.

We organic farmers cannot resort to chemical means to control insects, rodents, or mold. We can’t go in and spray if things get away from us, either in the field or in storage. We must plan from the very start to prevent these problems before they even begin.

Clean Out Bins and Surrounding Areas

Cleaning out bins is a hot, dusty, dull job that can feel uncomfortable. Even with that in mind, it is essential to get in the bin to shovel, sweep, vacuum, and perhaps also scrape and hose down the bin. 

If you are not using dedicated organic harvesting storage and put new, clean, insect-free grain into a bin on top of old grain, it is just too easy to overlook an already existing insect or mold problem.

  • If the old grain were infested, the problem would spread upward into the new grain, and extensive damage may occur before it is apparent at the surface.
  • Don’t just dump the cleanout on the ground outside the bin. All of the old grain should be removed from the area, so insects do not migrate back into the newly filled bin.
  • This is particularly important in summer-harvested small grains because it is a long time before cold winter temperatures will slow down mold and insect growth.
  • Cleanout around the bins, too. Remove high grass, weeds, spilled grain, and debris.
  • Finally, mow around the entire area.

Repairing Bins

While cleaning:

  • Check that the bins are tight, with no cracks or leaks.
  • Check sides and roof for leaks, corrosion and broken bolts, and repair and replace damaged areas, especially if they will allow moisture, insects or rodents to enter the bins.
  • Make sure the fans and aerators work before filling the bin.
  • Some farmers suggest putting a light inside the empty bin at night to see leaky areas better.
  • Caulk and repair damaged areas.

Handling Equipment

  • Your certifier will expect you to maintain a cleanout log, showing that the equipment and bin were thoroughly cleaned and purged of conventional grain before any organic grain was introduced.
  • This is particularly critical with custom hired equipment which is likely also to be used to harvest Bt corn and Roundup Ready soybeans. You do not want those contaminating your organic grain.
  • Combines, augers, trucks, and other handling equipment should be cleaned before harvest to remove any old grain that could be a source of mold and insects.
  • Experts recommend destroying or feeding to animals the first few bushels of grain augured through each piece of equipment as harvest begins to scour out any old material clinging inside.

Maintaining Crop Quality 

We work hard during the year, focusing on how the crop is doing in the field and might not spend as much time preparing our bins for harvest. I couldn’t agree with the Martens more when they say, “The days of organic crops selling easily simply because they are “organic” are over. There is too much supply to continue that luxury, with organic grain and beans coming into the United States from all over the world. We must make sure that organic is never an excuse for selling and delivering moldy corn, buggy wheat, stained soybeans, or checked red kidney beans. We must make sure that the organic products we deliver are of the highest quality.”

In organic crop production and sourcing, a quality crop far exceeds the general measures of moisture and test weight. Added to the spec sheet is the amount of GMO contamination and knowing if mycotoxins are present. In organics, both buyers and consumers are focused on these additional quality measures. That is just one of the reasons why knowing your numbers is imperative and also prevents surprises and reduces possible rejection when your organic crop is delivered to its drop off point. At YieldOrganic to protect both the farmer and buyer, having a third-party certified lab to test your crop for these additional quality measures is required before your organic crop can be posted for sale.

Let’s work together to deliver verifiable crop quality to our customers.