While it may seem inconsequential, experts say the most important grain storage management practice for farmers is to open the bin and check the grain every week to two weeks.
Checking stored grain periodically throughout winter is the most important management practice farmers can employ, according to Mark Hanna, Iowa State University extension agricultural engineer.
“Frequency of checking can be altered between once a week and every two to three weeks,” Hanna told DTN. “Poorer-quality grain or grain that is not sufficiently dried for storage into late spring should be checked more frequently.”
While today’s grain storage technologies will check the condition of grain at a touch of button, it is also imperative farmers open the bins and check the condition of the grain themselves.
Opening a bin and examining the grain within it is vital, said John Gnadke, harvest management and grain quality consultant for DuPont Pioneer.
“Check that grain even though we have automated equipment,” Gnadke said. “We cannot take the human element out of it.”
Technology also plays an important role in keeping grain in condition during the winter months. Hanna said farmers with larger bins (more than 50,000 bushels) should strongly consider temperature sensors to keep track of the temperature of the stored grain.
Gnadke said farmers need to look in the bin, open the lid, get into it and walk around on the grain. Someone else will need to start the fan and allow the air to come out through the grain.
If the air comes out of the grain with some humidity or stickiness to it, the grain is going through a “cold sweat,” Gnadke said. Temperature cables would not be able to catch this change in grain temperature, making the hands-on check that much more important.
In the cold sweat situation, catching it early is a good way to stop it from affecting grain quality, he said. Running bin fans on grain in a cold sweat will lower grain temperatures.
Gnadke said when grain is first stored, check it weekly for the first four to five weeks and then check every two weeks. He recommends not going more than two weeks without checking stored grain, noting that skipping checks only increases the incidence of grain-quality problems.
Hanna said another area farmers should watch closely with stored grain is moisture migration. This is due to very slow air currents caused by temperature differences in the bin which moves moisture inside the grain mass.
The most likely spot for increased moisture accumulation is the center of the bin, just below the surface.
Removing a load from the bin removes these top and center bushels, he said. This practice also levels grain height so that air can be pushed up through the bin evenly.
“Occasional airflow may be used to maintain cool grain temperatures,” Hanna said.
WHY CHECKING IS IMPORTANT
DTN Analyst Mary Kennedy, who has worked for many years in the grain elevator and ethanol business across the Northern Plains, has seen firsthand the effects of improperly stored grain.
In 2009, Kennedy was working for an ethanol plant in Wisconsin. Corn was harvested and stored with moisture as high as 40% that fall. While the corn was dried to the 17% to 20% moisture level, the quality of the grain was lowered because of incorrect storage.
“I saw moldy corn come out of bins in lumps when temperatures warmed in late winter and early spring,” Kennedy said. “I also saw bug problems — they were both dead and alive — in loads and the corn had insect-damaged kernels, which has a distinct odor as well.”
Discounts for grain with low quality can be fairly severe. Ethanol plants will still take the damaged corn if there is no aflatoxin present but depending on the severity of the damage, the grain could be priced out as feed.
“With current corn prices around $4.00 a bushel, that could equate to as low as $1.00 to $1.50 per bushel,” she said.
Grain with low quality also has the risk of being rejected completely at the elevator as well, Kennedy pointed out.
When entering bins to check grain condition, make sure all safety precautions are followed. Skipping a step for the sake of speediness can result in at best a close call and at worst suffocation.
This list of safety musts comes from Bill Field of Purdue University’s department of agricultural and biological engineering:
- Practice the buddy system when entering bins. Never work alone.
- Never enter a bin when unloading equipment is running.
- Keep children away.
- Always lock control circuits before entering a bin.
- Don’t trust a crust! Dislodge steep piles of grain from above with a long pole.
- Entering a questionable storage situation should include three people, a safety harness and a lifeline.
- Use a long pole from outside the bin to test grain surfaces.