Before you put a bow on this year’s harvest, take steps to button up your grain bins. And then have a monitoring plan to prevent spoilage and grain-quality losses.
Billions of bushels of grain are stored on farms across the country. Whether your capacity tops out in the thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of bushels, taking care of all that grain is a big responsibility.
A hot spot or a spoiled bushel or two quickly can escalate into hundreds or thousands of lost bushels. Most experts say maintaining proper temperature is a critical starting point. Your state’s land grant university can provide guidance specific to your area’s climate and seasonal conditions. Iowa State University Extension specialists offer these recommendations:1
- Immediately cool grain after harvest (and drying)
- Have adequate aeration (0.1 cubic feet per minute (cfm) per bushel, or more) — all bins with all grains should be aerated
- Run a cooling cycle every 10- to 15-degree average change in outside temperature, starting at harvest. With a 0.1 cfm-per-bushel fan, a cooling cycle will take about 150 hours
- Get grain below 40 degrees as quickly as possible
- Inspect grain and monitor temperature weekly until December; every two weeks thereafter
Scheduling a reminder alert on your smartphone or computer calendar program can help you stick to recommended monitoring schedules. Kansas State University Extension specialists echo the importance of timing and offer additional reminders:2
Monitor. Schedule inspection times. Temperature, moisture and odor are the most commonly monitored conditions. Once the grain temperature and the outdoor air temperature are below 45 degrees, monthly monitoring should be adequate. If the average grain or air temperature is above 45 degrees, inspect every two weeks.
Be observant. Many stored grain problems can be stopped in the early stages if you are paying attention. Odor is a common indicator of grain spoilage. When there are multiple steel bins at a site and one bin roof has no snow or frost while the others do, the grain may be heating. Visual evaluation inside a bin also is useful. Moisture migration may be detected by slimy-feeling grain on the surface or drip spots on the underside of a roof.
Know your marketing plan. Use that plan to develop a management strategy for maintaining the quality of stored grain. This is particularly necessary when storing grain into the late spring or summer months. Rewarming of the grain may be necessary to prevent moisture migration within a grain mass due to temperature differences.
Be ready to act quickly. Grain storage problems do not disappear once they are detected. Grain that is heating should be cooled, turned or marketed immediately to prevent further damage. Once heating is detected, the problem will only get worse unless some action is taken. Heating grain may cause structural damage as well as charred grain if no action is taken.
Always keep safety top of mind when working around grain storage equipment and grain storage. Heavy clothing, cold or wet ladder rungs help make metal ladders especially dangerous during cold weather. Make sure two people always are present when sampling grain bins. Never enter a bin when equipment is running or is going to be turned on. Review North Dakota State University Extension’s Caught in the Grain! for information on the dangers of grain entrapment, preventive steps and rescue procedures. Share this information with employees and family members, and provide frequent reminders.
Spoiled grain is expensive: you lose some or all of the grain’s cash value; it often damages bins and equipment; and removal and cleanup is time-consuming and costly. Take steps now and in the coming weeks and months to maintain your stored grain. It will be time well-spent.