Time for a Bin Check

As Temps Climb, Monitor Stored Grain

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Still have grain socked away in a bin? Don't forget to check it as temperatures rise. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

OMAHA (DTN) -- While many farmers have turned their attention to the 2020 growing season, issues from the 2019 season linger in grain bins across the Corn Belt. Grains harvested in less-than-ideal conditions and stored last fall have already experienced some grain quality issues.

(For more on last fall's grain quality issues, see "Tips for Tackling Damaged Corn" here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….)

As spring and warmer weather returns, there is concern about the condition of grain in on-farm storage. Farmers with grain in storage need to monitor moisture content and dry it down if necessary, Kenneth Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension agricultural engineer, told DTN.

KNOW MOISTURE LEVELS

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said forecasts for summer call for equal chances of above-normal, normal or below-normal temperatures in the Northern Plains and western Midwest. Above-normal temps are forecast elsewhere in the continental U.S., he said.

"Ample soil moisture in the central U.S. is seen as a key item in the seasonal temperature forecast," Anderson said. "Favorable soil moisture, along with crop vegetation, combine to act as a thermostat."

Hellevang noted that mold growth in grain increases as temperatures rise, so grain to be stored longer term needs to be dried to moisture levels below which grain is normally marketed. Corn should be held in the 13%-to-14%-moisture range while soybeans should be 11% to 12%, he said.

"Higher moisture content in stored grain can work over winter, but you can't do the same thing in the spring," Hellevang said.

Sara Bauder, South Dakota State University Extension agronomy field specialist, said the moisture of stored grain correlates back to air temperature, which is a big factor in keeping grain in condition. If the moisture content is high, there could be issues with bridging, molding and insect infestations occurring as time passes and temperatures rise.

Those with grain in storage want to keep grain cool and low in moisture to lengthen storage time as long as possible, she said.

"As the weather warms up, it's ideal to keep grain below 70 degrees [Fahrenheit], as the optimum grain temperature for insect activity is 70 to 90 degrees," Bauder said. "Sixty degrees is the ideal temperature to hinder insect activity, but it is not always achievable."

TWO WAYS TO DRY GRAIN

One efficient spring option for drying grain that is only slightly damp is natural air, Hellevang said.

"You will need to start drying when outdoor temperature averages about 40 degrees Fahrenheit," he said. "Some of the Northern states are just starting to get these temperatures."

The fans could be run overnight or in the evenings as the cooler air is present, he said. Cover the fan when it is not in use, as moist, warmer air could enter the bin through the fan.

Hellevang said high-temperature drying is the only option for grains that need to be dried down significantly. Those attempting to dry grain will need to follow dryer recommendations to start the process and then adjust to what is needed from there, he said.

With dryers, there are certain fire hazards, especially if you are drying down soybeans.

Pods and trash can be lodged in the dryer and can become combustible. To avoid these issues, keep the grain flowing and clean and monitor the dryer regularly, he said.

Hellevang said ventilating the bin headspace can help assure grain quality. Opening bin eaves can lower the air temperature of bin headspace, he said.

CHECK GRAIN WEEKLY

Bauder suggested checking bins weekly in the spring and summer as the sun begins to warm up bins.

Grain samples should be taken at several places near the top of the grain surface, along the walls and within the grain, she said. Be sure the moisture meter is adjusted for temperature and confirm the accuracy by letting grain warm up in a sealed container and sampling when it reaches room temperature.

Farmers may have more grain in storage this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting price points, purchasing habits and closing ethanol plants.

Daren Niemeyer, Bladen, Nebraska, said he typically tries to move at least half of his stored corn -- if not more -- by spring. Once the weather warms, he would ordinarily have a few thousand bushels to move in the spring and/or summer.

However, this spring, he still has about 20,000 bushels of corn on his south-central Nebraska farm. Many other corn producers with on-farm storage may be in the same situation, he said.

Niemeyer said he believes the key to keeping corn in good condition is to get it in the best shape as possible during the fall when it is first put into the bins.

"I try to have it as dry as possible and get it cooled as low as I can," Niemeyer said. "It delays the deterioration of the kernel."

SAFETY FIRST

Hellevang said those with grain in storage should keep safety in top of mind, especially this year.

Throughout the winter months at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, news reports of tragic accidents and even deaths were well documented in news stories. Moldy grain can also cause severe health and breathing issues.

While farmers may be focusing on spring planting fieldwork right now, Hellevang urged those working around grain not to cut corners. There are many different kinds of safety equipment available and farmers need to use this equipment, he said.

For more information, visit: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/….

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

(PS/AG)

Russ Quinn