Low commodity prices and high yields this harvest season point to farmers storing larger quantities of grain for a longer period of time. However, capitalizing on the opportunity for higher, future commodity prices requires proper management to protect grain quality, according to Gary Woodruff, conditioning applications manager with GSI. The company manufactures bins, dryers and other grain handling system equipment.
Woodruff advises that moisture content should not exceed 15% to safely store corn grain through next spring. Farmers planning to store grain through next fall, he says, should maintain a moisture content no higher than 14%, or not above 13% to store for one year or longer.
"Grain held above these moisture thresholds, particularly in larger bins, will experience heating and loss of grade, even if high airflow is available because there won't be enough air to properly dry the grain," he warns. "As a result, it will lose test weight and quality." His recommendations for protecting grain quality during long-term storage also include:
•Grain taken straight from the field is the most difficult to store long-term, even at 15% or below. Because the kernel is a live seed, insects, mold and fungus are alive. Proper drying improves storage life by reducing these threats to storage life. Market grain that was stored straight from the field first, if at all possible.
•As grain enters the bin, run aeration fans to equalize kernel grain moisture. This typically takes five to 10 days, but this year where maturity is highly variable in some parts of the Corn Belt, farmers should run fans for 10 to 15 days. This puts the grain in the best shape to store safely.
•Watch the ambient temperature and use aeration fans to get the grain temperature below 50 degrees F as soon as possible. Nearly all insect and mold activity ceases below this temperature.
•It's okay to leave corn cold as long as it will be marketed no later than May. For grain held past May, maintain its temperature within 10 degrees to 15 degrees F of the outside air to avoid grain deterioration caused by condensation.
•Soon after harvest, pull the bins with peaked grain down so the center is just below the corn at the wall. The grain will look somewhat like the letter M from the side, promoting air movement in the center. Leveling at this point is also a good practice.
•On farms with multiple bins, don't completely empty one bin at a time when it comes time to sell the grain. Instead, when possible, rotate the bin from which the grain is removed. This not only promotes air movement, but also reduces the risk of the discharge being blocked by out-of-condition fines.
•Check the grain weekly. Climb to the top of the bin, without entering, and observe whether there is a crust or any noticeable smell. An increase in surface moisture usually is the first sign of problems.
•The only real fix for out-of-condition issues not stopped by aeration is to unload the bin down to where the affected grain can be removed. This likely means the grain will have to be marketed early and poor grain quality may receive a dock at the elevator.
Woodruff adds that in areas where maturity is variable, there will be a percentage of immature kernels even in grain harvested below 20%. This makes storage much more difficult and limits safe storage life significantly. Safe storage, he notes, doesn't happen by accident – it's a matter of science. "Prevention is the key to dealing with out-of-condition grain. That takes management and planning."
ABOUT GSI: GSI is a manufacturer of steel farm bins, commercial storage grain bins and grain silos. GSI also offers technologically advanced grain dryers and a selection of material handling systems, including bucket elevators and conveyors, grain bin sweeps and chain loop systems. GSI is a full-line manufacturer of protein production systems for swine and poultry operations. For more information, visit grainsystems.com.