Grain quality is a huge issue this fall, and it’s creating a great deal of stress for growers and buyers.
Based on estimates from its network of volunteer crop reporters, Saskatchewan’s agriculture ministry is projecting that half of the province’s durum crop will be No. 4 and 5, mainly because of fusarium.
There was still a lot of harvesting to be done when that estimate was made, so the percentage could end up better or worse, but it’s a strong indicator of the magnitude of the problem.
Wheat will have many of the same issues, but overall will fare better.
Lentils are the other big problem with limited markets for the bottom grades at this point.
In the case of durum, yields are often astounding. Producers talk about 60 and 70 bushel per acre crops, but in some cases the fusarium level is so high the production has limited value.
There are stories of producers with huge quantities that appear unsalvageable who are planning to dig big pits and bury the stuff to get rid of it.
It’s difficult to know whether this will actually happen or whether it’s just talk born of frustration. Usually, there is some economic value even if it’s very low and takes a long time to realize. A knee jerk reaction to discard high-fusarium durum might not be the best decision.
However, uncertainty causes frustration and there’s no shortage of uncertainty.
Each bin is likely to have a different fusarium count, and that count will vary from one buyer to the next because grading is not an exact science. The vomitoxin level is what should really matter, and that is not a perfect correlation with the fusarium percentage.
More uncertainty comes as marketers try to deal with the high volume. Some companies will not take deliveries of durum with more than two percent fusarium. Others have set even lower tolerances.
High fusarium grain is unlikely to be exported because of its low value, so it needs to be blended into the domestic feed and ethanol markets. Blending such a large quantity of product will take time, raising the prospect that producers will need to store some of this grain for two or three years before it can be sold.
Can the grain be upgraded by cleaning? Will sieves and gravity tables reduce the fusarium count? How many of the good quality kernels would need to be sacrificed? Would cleaning make economic sense?
How will crop insurance deal with the issue? More uncertainty.
Producers with high yields could still be in a claim position once the quality factor from crop insurance is applied. It will take time for crop insurance to monitor market prices and come up with quality factors that reflect the serious levels of fusarium damage.
Farmers can usually make a reasonable estimate of where they’re at financially once they have binned and/or bagged all their grain. This year, crop value and cash flow timing are tough to estimate for a lot of producers,.
Some marketers recommend producers test their grain for vomitoxin so they have better information to provide buyers.
The best advice may be patience. Marketing avenues often take time to develop. Even very low quality grain usually finds a home eventually.