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Tips for storing grain into the spring and summer

By Staff | May 22, 2020



As we head into the spring and summer months, experts warn to not lax on managing stored grain. Especially those bushels that may have been put into the bin in less than ideal condition last fall.

Several experts provided some advice recently during a webinar hosted by Purdue University Extension.

Dirk Maier, professor and Extension engineer at Iowa State University provided his insight on storing those less and average quality bushels.

Most of the challenges, Maier said in our state are related to carrying corn at too high of a moisture content that is unsafe with storage during warm weather seasons.

“Going into later this spring and summer, corn should be around 15% moisture content or lower for successful carrying into late spring and early summer,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of farmers and a lot of elevator managers don’t have temperature cables to know what the grain conditions are in the bins or flats or even ground piles so checking quality with a CO2 meter is a key at this time.”

One key step to storing marginal quality of grain, Maier said is to make sure the grain mass has been cored.

“If you have not done that yet, do it now for each bin that you would like to continue carrying,” he said.

CO2 monitoring

Maier said CO2 monitoring works for all grain types.

“It measures biological activity whether it is for molds, insects, high moisture grain respiration – and because it measures gas that naturally occurs in grain, it can pick up problems more easily than temperature cables,” he said. “It’s a key action step, especially now with quite a bit of grain of marginal quality. Without knowing the quality of grain, you can’t make any good management decisions and these meters are very inexpensive costing about $500. That is relatively little compared to the value of stored grain anybody has.”

In terms of guidance, Maier said CO2 readings that are below 600 parts per million (ppm) essentially have good quality grain and some flexibility that will allow it to be carried into late spring or early summer.

Readings between 600 and 1,500 ppm, Maier said it is time to make some plans to do something with the grain before June.

“I would advise against keeping it much longer,” he said. “Unload and market those loads until those CO2 readings are under 600 parts per million for a week. The rest of the grain mass could still be stable and could continue storing that for the remainder.”

Maier said if readings are above 1,500 ppm, plans for that grain need to be made immediately.

“CO2 helps determine which bins to unload and market first because you may have different quality in different bins and quality that is still stable in one can be easily carried and other can be moved,” he said. “I highly recommend using CO2 meters to moderate grain storage quality from days of fill to unloading them.”

Temperature cables

For those bins equipped with temperature cables, Carol Jones, professor and Buchanan Endowed Chair at Oklahoma State University said it is important to watch for any area that seems to go higher in temperatures than other areas around it.

“The grain around, say a two to three-foot diameter of that node probably has some kind of biological activity going on there,” she said. “And then, what you will see in your system, is that particular node will exceed all of the other temperatures surrounding it and that’s a really good indication you have mold or insects forming in that particular place. That’s a good time for you to go in and move that area out if you can get to it. You might want to consider selling that bin first. It’s time to move some grain because that point will not get any better.”

Jones said the aeration system can be ran and it may slightly drop the temperature, but that is not a cure all.

“What I have found in the past, in my experience, it doesn’t take long for it to start forming again because you really haven’t remedied the problem,” she said. “Look for those extraneous temperatures in your reporting system. Coming out of the winter, it should be cooler than your average daily temperature. If it is over your ambient temperature, the entire bin has a problem. Look for those differences.”

Bin safety

Chuck Schwab, professor and Extension safety specialist for Iowa State University said it is important to use information and observation as indicators on whether it is safe to enter a grain-filled bin.

“A person that knows the history about the unloading and loading of a bin will have a better understanding as to what will be visible from the top surface,” he said. “Is the surface peaked? Or is it an inverted cone? In other words, have you cored the bin? If you don’t know what the history is behind it, how much has been emptied or has it been emptied at all or moved around? Then it’s harder to understand what potential dangers are there.”

Once you know the history, use some observations.

“See if there’s conditions like the shining metal or the clean sidewalls that should be present when the grain has dropped from unloading,” he said. “If that grain hasn’t revealed that shiny or clean sidewall, then that tells you that top surface is most likely bridge conditions, and at that moment, you know that it’s a potential for entrapment.”

Safety first

If there is surface crusting in the bin, should it be busted and the crusted grain removed before unloading is started?

Hellevang said each situation is different.

“We really need to know about the history on what’s taken place in that bin,” he said. “How did we determine that there is a crust? And, if we have unloaded some grain and we don’t see that inverted cone or I have referred to it sometimes as a funnel shape, then, we likely are going to have a void underneath that crust, so, keep in mind all of the recommended safety practices, such as working in teams, having a harness and making sure that we don’t end up with the crust collapsing.”

Depending on the size of the facility Hellevang said poles can be used to break up the grain or possibly other methods from outside of the bin to try to break up that crust.

“But in doing so, of course, there’s the danger of forming chunks of grain that then will become an impediment for your grain flow, particularly if it gets caught into the grain sump,” he said. “There is no easy solution, it’s a matter of actually taking those chunks of that crusted grain and physically removing it from the bin, and again, keep in mind, safety – working in teams, following the recommended practices as we do that.”

Schwab said when you are in a non-flowing grain situation, it is paramount for everyone to reset that priority from getting the grain out of the bin to keeping everyone safe.

“I cannot stress enough the personal goal of everyone must change to safety as the first priority because if you are so concerned about getting the grain, you are overlooking the individuals and the safety of those individuals,” he said. “The procedures of a confined space is looking at having the ability to communicate with that person that has to go in. Can you retrieve that person once they are in that bin? There are so many moving pieces with that, but again, whether on the farm or in a commercial setting, you have to look out and change your mindset. It’s all about safety first.”

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