Grain storage specialists recommend farmers monitor stored grain carefully throughout the storage period, at least every two weeks, even in winter. A regular check of bins allows you to keep tabs on grain condition, providing an opportunity to catch emerging problems before they result in spoilage.
This year has a higher-than-normal risk of grain going out of condition, especially as weather warms in late winter into spring. The grain’s normal safe storage period, or “shelf life,” has been shortened due to very high dew points last fall, says Charlie Hurburgh, Iowa State University’s grain quality expert. A lot of corn went into bins last fall at a 16% grain moisture content or higher. Also, a warm fall made it difficult for grain handling. There wasn’t much opportunity to cool harvested grain down to temperatures safe for long-term storage.
Check grain in bins once a week
Hurburgh, a professor in charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Lab at ISU, says farmers should be extra cautious from late February through April this year. He advises to check grain in bins once a week. Tips for monitoring include turning on the fan and smelling the first air that comes out to detect musty odors that indicate molds are developing. Also, check the grain surface at the top of the bin for crusting, wet areas, molds and insect activity.
Hurburgh says to keep tabs on grain temperature and moisture. He recommends investing in “in-the-bin” electronic probes that monitor grain temperature and moisture continuously. If you suspect a problem, use a hand-probe to check the grain mass for “hot spots” and molds. “If you detect problems, correct them immediately,” he says. If necessary, move the grain to a different bin or to market.
Grain in alternative storage — big bags or in piles — has additional challenges. Corn in bags or piles should be the first to leave the farm. If you have grain that’s going out of condition, don’t haul it to an ethanol plant. Moldy grain interferes with the ethanol fermentation process, and farmers who deliver moldy grain will incur a penalty.
“If you notice a temperature change in your stored grain — even if it’s just a few degrees compared to the last time you checked it — that’s a clue spoilage is likely starting,” says Hurburgh.
Big bags challenging
With last year’s big crop, more corn went into temporary storage in plastic bags. A big challenge with bags is there’s no way to cool the grain. You can’t aerate it as you can with a fan on a metal storage bin. Once a hot pocket starts, it’s an incubator and mold develops. Grain stored in piles either outside or in machine sheds, however, can be aerated and properly managed with fans and tubes.
“If you anticipate handling more bushels in the years ahead, temporary grain storage systems aren’t the best long-term answer,” says Hurburgh. While plastic bags are used successfully in places like Brazil, Argentina, Kansas or Texas, those areas have lower grain moisture going into storage and drier climates. Bags are used successfully by farmers in Iowa, too, but they empty the bags soon after harvest. They move the grain to market in December and January, or into a bin that’s been emptied, and they run air through it.
If you don’t want to build more bins, Hurburgh suggests delivering more bushels to the elevator at harvest to lower your grain quality management risk. Just because you deliver grain to the elevator doesn’t mean you have to take a low price. Ask them about grain marketing strategies they offer, and use the marketing tools available.