Heed this springtime advice to keep grain in top shape
Storing any grain this year? You’re not alone—not by a long shot. As of December 2015, 6.83 billion bushels of corn and 1.31 billion bushels of soybeans were being stored on-farm, according to USDA–National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In early spring, as temperatures begin to fluctuate more, it’s especially important to keep stored grain cool.
“Not only are daytime temperatures increasing, but the bin works as a solar collector,” says Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. “This heats the grain to temperatures exceeding outside temperatures, particularly on the south side and top of the bin. There is more than twice as much solar energy warming the south wall of a bin on Feb. 21 as there is on June 21 due to the low solar angle.”
According to Purdue University research, spring warm-up of grain can prevent “moisture migration,” which leads to high-moisture pockets that cause spoilage. Purdue recommends the following:
- Start the fans when the average outdoor temperatures are 10˚F to 15˚F warmer than grain temperatures.
- Run the fans continuously for a complete warming cycle.
- Don’t stop midway—that nearly guarantees a deposit of condensed moisture leading to spoilage.
- Repeat warming cycles when necessary and bring the grain temperature up to 50˚F to 60˚F.
- Inspect stored grain on a weekly basis for mold and insect activity.
When inspecting grain, Hellevang recommends recording temperature and moisture content. Monitoring the fluctuations could serve as an early warning of insect or mold problems, he says. Insect problems can move from “barely noticeable” to “major infestations” in just three to four weeks when grain is warm.
Spring Storage Safety
In the spring, two types of grain bin safety incidents tend to happen more often, according to Chuck Schwab, Iowa State University Extension safety specialist. Both incidents happen when stored grain wasn’t kept in the best condition or had moisture build up over the winter, he says.
In the first scenario, clumps of spoiled grain can clog the unloading auger. That in and of itself isn’t dangerous, but it does require farmers to take caution when breaking that grain loose during unloading.
Be diligent—turn off the auger each time before trying to free up clogs from atop the grain pile, even if it takes multiple tries, Schwab says. Never stand on grain as it is unloading.
In the second scenario, the top surface of stored grain can create a crust if there is localized spoilage.
“That crust can support its own weight but is not strong enough to hold more,” Schwab says.
Again, not a problem by itself, but farmers must be aware that just because the top looks normal, the grain beneath it is gone if unloading has occurred. That has caused entrapment situations when farmers stand on this “phantom” grain pile, only to have it collapse beneath them.