Three steps to better grain storage

Don’t roll the dice when it comes to grain storage. Lower your risk of spoilage with these three steps

Losing a 1,500 bushel bin to spoilage would make any farmer seethe. But imagine losing a 10,000 bushel bin. The bigger the bin, the more important it is for farmers to ensure that the grain going into storage gets into optimal condition quickly and stays that way through the winter.

“The No. 1 mistake growers make is not cooling the grain fast enough,” says Harry Brook, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development at Stettler, Alta. “Or putting the grain in the bin then forgetting about it. After spending all that time and money producing a crop, improper storage is a needless risk.”

Here are three tips for better grain storage.

1. keep it Cool and dry

Grain condition comes down to two factors: temperature and moisture content. The higher either of these are, the greater the risk of spoilage. Consequently, the faster the grain’s temperature and moisture level can be decreased, the better and longer it will store.

“If you’re putting hot grain into a bin, it’s important to get good air circulation on it right away to get it cooled down and dry,” explains Brook. “Anything between 25 C and 32 C is considered ‘hot,’ so keep an eye on it, particularly when you are harvesting on warm days.”

In terms of moisture, the higher the grain’s moisture content, the less time there is to get it dried down before spoilage occurs. Remember that grain considered “dry” in marketing terms may not be dry enough for bins; wheat at less than 14 percent moisture can still spoil if it is not cool enough. The threshold is even lower for oilseeds.

Also important to note is that a grain lot’s average moisture content does not necessarily reflect actual moisture content throughout the bin. In other words, if a truckload of grain is between 10 per cent and 17 per cent moisture, grain at the higher end is at greater risk of spoilage. Again, says Brook, the key is to get that grain aerated and cooled to bring the moisture content down and uniform throughout the bin.

“If you don’t have aerated bins, you’ll have to physically turn the grain,” he says. This means auguring it out of the bin into a truck and back again. The movement releases heat and moisture and helps get the grain into a more stable condition for storage.

When the grain is dry and cool enough, he says, seal the bin.

2. Monitor

Check bins throughout the winter to ensure the grain has not heated up and that moisture hasn’t formed. Both of these issues can be solved with aeration. “If the grain is dry, checking it once a month should be sufficient,” explains Brook.

“Producers should be aware of the seasonal temperature and airflow changes that can occur in bins,” he says. Generally speaking, if it’s cold outside, then cold air moves down the inside walls of the bin and warm air rises up the middle, potentially creating a high moisture zone at the top of the grain cone. If it’s warm outside, the reverse is true, and the moisture zone is at the bottom of the bin.

Once grain temperature is below zero, however, it tends to be fairly stable, even through the occasional winter warm spell. “Grain is a great insulator,” says Brook. “Think of those wheat bags you put in the microwave and how they stay hot for so long. There’s a slow transfer of heat with grain, so if it’s minus 10 in the middle of winter, that grain will probably still be cold in July.”

3. Try new technology

Checking grain condition used to be as simple as sticking a probe into the grain to determine what was going on. That’s pretty much impossible with today’s huge, multi-thousand-bushel bins, but there are some new technologies that can help.

The Rocket is an aeration system that is installed directly in the bin and forces air right up through the entire grain cone. There are even models that can be retro-fitted into non-aerated, flat-bottomed bins.

On the monitoring side, OPI cables can be hung from the roof of a bin. Sensors placed evenly along the cables monitor temperature and moisture throughout the grain, and relay that information to your computer.

Clearly, bigger bins represent a bigger risk should something go wrong during storage — putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. As Brook concludes: “I like that Mark Twain quote: ‘Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.’ That’s the principle of grain storage, right there.” †

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