Success with wheat crops has much in common with being a good parent: You can do everything else to raise them right, but if you spoil them it’s all for naught.
“Wheat needs to be managed in storage or you risk a huge loss of revenue,” said Dr. Joy Agnew, Project Manager — Agricultural Research Services with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI).
“That’s something farmers often overlook,” said Dr. Agnew. “We need to remember the management that went into growing the wheat and getting it to the bin in the first place, and give it that same attention when we get it there.”
The two main challenges in that regard are spoilage due to improper storage and infestations of insects and molds.
Often a producer will put the wheat in the bin cool and dry and think they can just leave it; but things can change.
The heat is on
“Convection currents cause moisture migration and hot spots can form. Even though monitoring technologies have come a long way over the last three decades, there’s still room for improvement.”
At present, that technology is limited to in-grain sensors hung from the bin roof before it’s loaded. The problem is that even with multiple sensors, you can only monitor a small portion of the bin.
Based on Dr. Agnew’s calculations, using the recommended number of sensors covers a mere one per cent of the contents. If hot spots form or other problems develop more than a foot or two from the sensors, “you won’t know you have a problem until it’s too late”.
So how do you avoid those problems in the first place?
“The difference between drying wheat and just cooling it is air flow rate; you must understand the distinction. Adequate air flow rate is critical to the drying process so you need a large enough fan capacity to achieve that.”
If the fan is selected and sized strictly for aeration, it’s unlikely to offer effective drying as it won’t push enough air through the grain to dry it.
Putting pests to rest
Ironically, the smallest enemy can be the biggest threat to proper wheat storage.
“The number one culprit is the rusty grain beetle and for good reason: it’s an extremely cold tolerant pest,” said Brent Elliott, CGC program officer — infestation control and sanitation, industry services.
Whereas temperatures in the 0 to -10 C range will kill most insects, the rusty grain beetle survives quite happily for a week or more at -20 C. This is an instance where aeration can save the day.
“Generally aeration is the first response as excessive cold can kill. In the winter pesticides are fairly ineffective so if you have a bin without aeration, moving the wheat out of the bin in cold weather and letting it cool in the truck for a while is helpful too.”
Though less tolerant of the cold, the red flower beetle and rice weevil both feed on wheat, so regular monitoring is once again your best ally.
“Especially in the summer, farmers can be so busy that they leave wheat in the bins too long or fail to check it regularly. Unfortunately, grain heats up no matter what you do and most beetles are able fliers; they can hang around all summer and even survive in empty bins if a bit of wheat residue is present.”
To avert disaster, the CGC recommends checking stored grain every two weeks by taking temperatures and looking for insects. As someone formerly active in field agriculture, Elliott knows how busy it can get.
“It may be more realistic to check bins once a month and even that can be tough, but it’s well worth the time.”
Often it’s a combination of factors that impact grain storage. As with child rearing, if you can catch problems early on, they’re a lot easier to manage.