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Grain storage challenges this season

26 Oct 2016
by Samantha Scantlebury

Grain storage challenges this season

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2016 has not been a typical harvest in many ways. Variability in weather across the nation this fall has posed some challenges not only with harvesting, but with grain storage, too. From rain delays in some parts of the country to warm and dry harvest conditions in others, harvest challenges also pose challenges in storage. And of course, there is the issue of not enough storage to hold yet another large crop. Whatever situation you're facing, be prepared to adjust practices and strategies in order to preserve grain quality and reduce loss.

Managing wet grain out of the field:

Rain has caused occasional harvest delays across much of the central United States this season. Iowa, for instance, has seen a lot of delays. Even this week, the Upper Midwest is experiencing more rain. Tips for managing wetter grain in storage include:

  • Storage life of grain is shortened significantly with warmer temperatures, much like those temperatures we're experiencing more recently. Be mindful of safe storage charts of your commodity in order to ensure your grain is brought to safe storage conditions within a window of time (see below). Grain storage technology can help by running fans when productive air is present to get grain quickly to safe conditions. Also keep in mind that grain going into storage already experiencing mold will have shorter storage life than mold-less grain. There have been many reports about wetter conditions giving rise to vomitoxins and other fungal problems in the field.

    Corn Safe Storage Days Chart
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  • Dr. Charles Hurburgh of Iowa State University provides several tips regarding wet grain management in a recent article (Source: Integrated Crop Management News, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach), among them to watch dewpoint temperatures. Dewpoint is a rough measure of the lowest possible temperature to which grain can be cooled at a particular time. Hurburgh notes that you will never cool the grain below the dewpoint, so ongoing temperature monitoring is key to successful storage. 

  • Grain bin dimensions and grain depth make a difference. When time is of the essence, air will move quicker through a smaller or more shallow bin, or a bin not filled to its fullest capacity. The trade-off, of course, is storing less grain in that bin at that time. 

  • Dr. Hurburgh recommends, do not mix old and new crop grain in the same bin. The old crop has used much of its storage time and the new crop is still equilibrating moisture. Rotate stocks if you can. Be sure to separate the crop years and draw the center cores out of all bins, corn and soybeans alike. 

  • Store grain with known fungal issues coming out of the field separately from other grain to avoid contamination.

Managing drier grain:
We're getting reports from a lot of customers that have also been harvesting drier grain. It’s also important to mind and mitigate risks of dry grain, both at harvest and in storage.

  • It pays to harvest early. A four-year Purdue University study of "Phantom Field Loss" proved that yield losses of 0.6%-1.6% per point of moisture can occur in corn drying in the field, as dry matter is lost from the time the kernel is mature to the time it is harvested. Drier kernels, especially as they get into moisture content levels under 20%, are much more prone to shattering when going through the corn head.

  • To reiterate, temperature is important to manage. With warmer conditions across much of the nation so far this fall, it’s important to cool even already-dry grain to below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to deter insect and mold growth.

  • Re-hydration is possible in some cases. It's common in parts of the country, especially areas like the western Plains, for grain to come out of the field already over-dry. Technologies exist that can actually work with fans to re-hydrate certain grains in grain bins and add back points of moisture. But remember, when grain gains moisture, it will expand up or out. You have to leave enough room in the headspace of the grain bin for the grain to expand; otherwise, you could have some bin damage.

Managing grain surplus:
One of our customers recently shared a guiding philosophy for his farm: The two worst reasons to sell grain are lack of money and lack of storage. Grain storage can be an valuable tool, by allowing you to store grain longer to take advantage of marketing windows. Many have used this strategy the past few years with low grain prices. But if you don’t have enough bins to manage both last year’s and this year’s crop, you’re forced to sell now instead of waiting for more opportune times.

  • Talk to your banker about a storage strategy. Storage is a large capital investment. The steel, the fans,  the monitoring and management technology, etc. can add up. But if a solid business plan is in place to utilize storage as a means to safely hold grain longer and capitalize during more profitable times, your lender may be more likely to listen.

  • Challenge yourself to become marketing savvy. Marketing experts and academic institutions offer discussions and training courses, many throughout the winter months. Take advantage of some of these resources to help master your marketing options and decisions. Online resources are plentiful too, such as this Iowa Commodity Challenge video series produced by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. IntelliFarms also offers online tools that show real-time cash bids near your location and also allow you to explore other market opportunities in your area.

  • Leave piles to commercial facilities. Dr. Hurburgh recommends this, noting that small piles spoil more rapidly than large ones. Management of pile grain is labor intensive, and often requires very short notice decisions about moving the grain. Larger piles are also easier to aerate. (With piles becoming more common, IntelliFarms brought PileManager to the market this year to help commercial facilities with tarp suction.)

You can contact an IntelliFarms representative with grain management questions anytime. If done well, grain storage is an opportunity to capitalize on market prices and even capture quality premiums. We want to help you discover ways it can be put to work even better for your farm.