6 steps for protecting stored grain quality

grain bins
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

ASSUMPTION, Ill. — Maintaining the quality of your stored grain is important every year, but this year, it will be even more important, as farmers use more on-farm storage to try and wait for higher market prices.

Gary Woodruff, a GSI district manager and grain conditioning expert, offers six recommendations to help farmers avoid income loss due to out-of-condition grain. 

1 Store at proper moisture
A common misperception, Woodruff says, “is that grain can be held above 15 percent moisture without risking quality.” 

He recommends that moisture content not exceed 15 percent for storage through the following spring, no higher than 14 percent through the following fall and at 13 percent for a full year. 

2 Run aeration fans
As grain enters the bin, run aeration fans to equalize kernel grain moisture, which typically takes five to 10 days and puts the grain in the best shape to store safely. 

“Also, it’s important to watch the ambient temperature and use aeration fans to get the grain temperature below 50°F as soon as possible,” Woodruff said. “Nearly all insect and mold activity ceases below this temperature.” 

3 Pull down peaked grain
Soon after harvest, pull peaked grain down so the center is just below the corn at the bin wall. “The grain will look somewhat like the letter M from the side, promoting air movement in the center. Alternatively, leveling at this point is also a good practice,” he says. 

4 Store cold grain short-term
Leave the grain cold only if it will be delivered before June. “But make sure you seal the fan entrance(s) and discharge opening to keep high humidity air out,” Woodruff said. 

If you are not leaving grain cold or are storing into June or later, he recommends maintaining grain temperatures within 10°F to 15°F of the outside air to avoid grain deterioration caused by condensation developing on grain bin interiors.

5 Check 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,” he said. 

6 Don’t completely empty one bin at a time
Instead, Woodruff recommends when it is time to sell the grain, take partial amounts from multiple bins to form the letter M and move the remaining grain around. 

“That not only promotes air movement but also reduces the risk of grain plugging the discharge,” he said. 

Other considerations. Woodruff notes that in some fields, stalk quality has been compromised by disease and recent, excessive rainfall, leading to downed corn, which can result in mold and dirt that can create additional storage issues.

In other areas, corn has dried down much more quickly this season due to hot, dry weather. Remember that very dry corn, if left too long in the field, increases grain loss exponentially.

For out-of-condition grain issues that cannot be remedied by aeration, Woodruff says the only fix 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.” 

He also encourages farmers to always consult their local ag university for area-specific recommendations since conditions vary widely, and what works in one state or area may not work in another.


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