Q: What can I do at harvest to minimize winter storage stress?
A: Heading into the fall season, conversations about harvest management and grain storage inevitably arise. Although every harvest brings unique challenges, it is important to do what we can agronomically and logistically to help minimize risk of spoilage, no matter what Mother Nature might have in store for us come the fall. As we know, nothing is guaranteed until the crop is sold.
Crop staging is important whether desiccating, straight cutting or swathing your crop. Terminating stands at optimum crop staging helps to minimize the amount of green and immature seed in your harvest sample. These seeds have a higher moisture content and may also affect your overall crop grade upon delivery. Wait for the maturity indicators for each crop.
For example, 60 per cent seed colour change in canola or stem peduncle colour change in wheat are good indicators before starting to swath or desiccate. If considering a desiccant, consult with your end-use buyer to ensure marketability prior to application. Special consideration of staging and desiccant product should be taken if the intent is to use the crop for seed the next season.
Properly setting your combine also helps to reduce late-season storage concerns. Foreign material in your sample (chaff, stems, flowers and weeds) all retain moisture that may affect storage over the long term. Taking the time to properly set your combine both in the front (concaves and rotor) as well as in the back (wind) helps to lower overall moisture of your sample.
When ready to harvest, our first instinct is to get into the field and get the crop off as quickly as possible, which can be a good management strategy if there are large acres to cover and the days are getting shorter. However, the closer to optimum moisture content your seed is leaving the field, the less work you will have aerating, drying or rotating your grain bins.
A grain moisture tester, properly calibrated, is an excellent tool to ensure you know the condition of the grain entering the bin. Many farmers today have their own grain moisture testers or rely on the local retailer or elevator for testing equipment. Alternatively, there are portable moisture testers and combine grain monitors that can give a near estimate of your harvest sample moisture, especially if calibrated properly.
Finally, when considering long-term storage, ambient temperature in the grain bin can have an effect on storability. Be sure to monitor the temperature as well as the moisture as crop enters your bin. Rising temperature in your bin post-harvest is an indicator the risk of spoilage is increasing and additional steps (aeration, drying or turning your bin) may be required.
Derek Flad, CCA, is a manager of agronomic services for Nutrien Ag Solutions in southern Alberta.