The rising demand for grain in the domestic market, coupled with the benefits of selling grain at peak prices, has prompted Andrew Thomas, Thomfarms, Moorlands, to invest heavily in on-farm grain storage.
Andrew, along with wife Emily and parents Barry and Maureen, crops 3100 hectares of wheat, barley, canola, lupins, lentils, oats, and export oaten hay, and first started storing grain on-farm in 2010, originally buying four 70-tonne Jackson silos to store seed.
But since then, he has steadily increased his on-farm storage capacity, and is now capable of storing more than 1000 tonnes of grain on his property - equivalent to about a quarter of his average annual yield - in 16 silos which have capacities ranging from 40t to 90t.
Andrew said storing grain for seed allowed him to be able to make late changes when planning his cropping rotations each year.
"We use at least six silos for seed, even if I only need 20 tonnes of seed, I'll fill (each of the six silos) right up during harvest and quite often we'll change our rotation a couple of times before seeding, and it just gives us that flexibility when all the seed we need is here," he said.
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Andrew said the ability to blend grain at harvest time was the biggest benefit of having all his grain on-hand.
"There have been a couple of years where we put a lot of dry grain into the silos, had a lot of rain, and then blended it all on the way out," he said.
Andrew said the demand for grain from domestic markets in his area - such as Inghams Enterprises Feedmill and Big River Feeds in Murray Bridge and Thomas Foods' Iranda feedlot at Tintinara - was also an incentive to retain grain, and sell locally.
"It's starting to be the case now that the price Inghams will pay on-farm is the same they will pay per tonne in silos out of Viterra. Viterra will charge (Inghams) $15/t to store the grain, or Inghams will pay us $15/t (if they buy direct from us)," he said.
Andrew plans to increase his on-farm storage capacity to about half his average annual yield, buying "a couple (of silos) each year", and will sell the grain through the year, depending on price.
"Price drops at harvest time, then a few weeks after that it starts lifting again, so we just try to take some advantage of that," he said.
Efficiency during harvest was maximised as a result of having storage capacity on-farm, according to Andrew.
Fans really are the way to go, and people are starting to see that.
"If the silos are shut on the weekend, we'll just cart the grain back to home, fill up one of our silos, and just keep the header rolling," he said.
"Labour-wise, there isn't a big difference for the person in the truck if they are carting to our silos or to Tailem Bend. We're pretty fortunate in the sense that we're only 15 kilometres from Tailem, so we can do seven or eight loads a day pretty comfortably, but as soon as you start travelling a bit further, you'd need more trucks (if you didn't have on-farm storage)."
Andrew said storing grain on-farm did not mean he treated the grain any differently during the growing season.
"If some people are keeping grain for seed, they'll do an extra zinc spray, but we just try to do the best we can everywhere," he said.
AERATION FANS KEEP QUALITY UNDER CONTROL
WHILE grain hygiene and quality can be a concern if storing grain on-farm, Moorlands cropper Andrew Thomas said his experience had been "problem-free" due to the use of aeration fans installed on each silo.
The fans are a product from Customvac, Toowoomba, Qld, and are added to each new silo when they are installed.
Costing about $1000 per fan, a central controller is used to individually adjust the fan on each silo, with Mr Thomas running the fans for an hour every morning, to create airflow through the grain.
"Having the fans enables us to store seed and grain without having to treat with insecticides, because it pushes cool air through the grain, which keeps the weevils out because the weevils go for warmth in the grain," he said.
"We've had no weevil issues at all since we've had the silos, since 2010."
"No one likes chemicals on grain if we can help it, and Viterra test samples for chemical residues. So fans really are the way to go, and people are starting to see that."
He said grain hygiene had not been a problem either.
"You hear a lot of stories of mouldy grain in silos, but the aeration has been the biggest saviour for all that sort of thing."
Up to 25 fans can be worked using the controller, and Mr Thomas said he would easily be able to hook up new fans to the system in the coming years.
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