Know how to hold

Jan 03, 2023

The best practices of growing high-quality and high-yielding grain crops often command the most attention in farm magazines and at agricultural field days, and that comes as no surprise; you must produce the crop before anything else happens. But growing crops is only part of the equation in making a profit. Your harvest must be available and in condition when the markets are high, or else the hard work of producing it becomes all for naught.

This is why proper storage is critical. Ignoring the best practices of grain storage is akin to purchasing a load of expensive holiday groceries and then leaving them in the back seat of your car — nothing good is going to happen.

But before you arrive at the storage question, complete a quick audit of your current crop situation. Which grains are you going to store and in what amounts? Does it make more sense financially to store them or to sell them? What evidence do you have that storing this harvest will make you more money? Do you have the necessary funds for maintaining the storage conditions throughout winter?

Once you have answered these questions and decided to store your crop, it’s time to plan and execute a storage objective. Most experts agree that there is no single solution to effective grain storage — it is a multi-layered challenge. We recommend the S.L.A.M. approach outlined in the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension paper, “Maintaining quality on farm stored grain.” The acronym stands for Sanitation, Loading, Aeration, and Monitoring.
Begin the grain-storing process with a clean slate — literally. Remove old grain from combines, truck beds, grain carts, augers, and anything else used for handling the product. Even a little bit of insect- or mold-infested grain can contaminate a bin of the fresh product.

Remove weeds, debris, and old spilled grain from around your bins to discourage rodents. Inspect your emptied bins carefully for cracks, missing bolts, or corrosion. Place a light inside the bin and walk around the outside at night to spot any cracks or holes you may have missed.

Thoroughly clean fans, exhaust vents, and aeration ducts. If possible, remove dust and fine materials from underneath perforated floors.

After thoroughly cleaning your bins, sanitize them with an approved residual spray. If you’re using bags — which are increasingly popular with farmers today — inspect for any holes or tears that might allow insects, rodents, or other pests to invade.
Never mix new grain with old. Cleaning grain prior to loading greatly increases its storability, though it may not increase its market price. During filling of the bin, run the unloading auger at least daily to remove peaked grain. Your goal is to create an inverted cone with a diameter of 5 to 10 feet. The grain that is removed can be mixed with other grain and returned to the bin. (Coring does not remove trash and fines but will help redistribute those materials that would normally accumulate near the center of the bin.)

It's important to level the grain after loading. Most dry grains peak at an angle of 18 to 20 degrees when filling the bin from the center. Sure, peaking adds storage capacity, but it also increases airflow resistance, which is a negative. You’ll have to operate a fan 50% longer to cool an overfilled peaked bin than a similar bin leveled and only filled to the eave.
After you’ve sanitized the bin and loaded it correctly with high-quality grain, the next step is to fight off the inevitable assaults on your product posed by fluctuation in temperature and humidity. Controlling temperature is key. More stored grain goes out of condition or spoils due to a lack of control over grain temperature than any other reason.

When first filled with grain, moisture content and temperature are relatively uniform throughout the bin. However, as outside temperatures begin to drop, continued monitoring of your grain is required. In the winter, as the ambient temperature outside starts to drop, the bin walls will start to cool, which then cools the adjacent grain and air inside the bin. This cool air creates a current that moves downward through the grain along the outside perimeter of the grain mass, then moves inward to the center of the bin, where it is warmed by the grain. As the air warms, it starts to move upward in the center of the bin, picks up moisture from the grain, and carries it to the top where it starts to cool again. This results in a high-moisture zone at the top center of the bin, which is where you can expect spoilage to occur.

This is why the grain temperature in the bin should be lowered to, or just slightly below, the average ambient temperature for that time of year. Generally, grain should be stored at 40-50°F in November and 35-45°F from December to February. Avoid the common mistake of turning off your aeration fan before the cooling or warming front has moved through the entire grain mass. Turn the fan off when the front is complete, and then keep it covered. This limits excessive cooling during winter months and keeps water, rodents, and debris out of the aeration system.
Failing to monitor grain conditions throughout the entire storage period is a common mistake. Even a small area that begins to heat or otherwise go out of condition can quickly spread to the entire bin. During the winter months, grain should be inspected at least once a month, and temperatures should be checked and recorded with each inspection. Use a deep bin probe to determine moisture content, the level of trash and fines, and the general condition of the product. Also check for condensation on the grain surface, the presence of mold and insects, and condensation on the bin roof.

Keep in mind that an old or inexpensive moisture meter can return inaccurate readings, so it’s best to occasionally test them against those at your local elevator.

Finally, give your grain the old smell test. At your bin site, turn on aeration fans for a minute to get a good whiff of the first air coming out of the bin. If it smells bad, there’s a problem. By the time you can smell it, though, the problem is significant, so let’s avoid getting to this point.

For more help and details on winter grain storage and the S.L.A.M. technique, visit with your area Extension agent and the professionals at your local Co-op.

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