January may be too late to get prepared for winter, but there are still plenty of preventative tasks for producers to keep in mind as their grain bins sit through a cold, snowy season.
Gary Woodruff, a district manager with GSI, said managing moisture levels and temperature control of grain should have been done ahead of the winter storage season. While he says these are the two main issues that cause problems for those storing grain, that doesn’t mean farmers can stop paying attention.
From leaks in bin roofs to snow blowing under the eaves, small problems can quickly grow. With many hunters out since November, he said stray bullets can even find their way to damage grain bins.
“There are a lot of things that are more incidental or may not happen every year that can create issues,” Woodruff said. “Just be checking your grain and inspecting it every week or every two weeks.”
He said much of the inspection is either visual — seeing the snow on top of the grain — or making sure it passes the sniff test.
“You are looking for an off smell,” he said. “Generally, a small leak may not be real noticeable, but it’s not too long before the human nose is good at catching an off odor. You want to check your fan inlet at the bottom of the bed to smell if there’s any odors.”
Purdue University Extension agricultural engineer Bruce McKenzie also suggests checking bins at least every two weeks and searching for “small changes,” including looking for warm spots in the grain that could allow for mold growth. In his Agricultural Engineer’s Digest, he said if heat is detected and it can’t be stopped in the bin, it might be time to cut bait and move the grain.
“If the heating can't be stopped, the best action will likely be to remove the grain for drying, cleaning, breaking up hot spots or for selling,” McKenzie said. “Remember, it's better to sell grain with a minor storage problem, even at low grain prices, than to permit a bin to go completely out of condition.”
As temperatures drop this winter, keeping stored grain between 28 and 35 degrees is optimal, Woodruff said. He added that farmers need to keep a particularly close eye on grain that was “questionable” during harvest time, as that will be the first to deteriorate in the bin.
“If you had some mold issues, like in the derecho area, you want to pay extra special attention to any grain that is potentially compromised,” Woodruff said.
Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State University Extension agricultural engineer, wrote that cooling grain along with the outdoor temperatures will reduce moisture migration in the grain pile, lowering the risk of molds growing in an article for Nebraska Cropwatch.
“Grain moisture content and temperature affect the rate of mold growth and grain deterioration, with the allowable storage time approximately doubling with each 10-degree reduction in grain temperature,” Hellevang said.
With the price rally in row crops, many farmers have started selling much of their crop, but for those with excess grain, Woodruff suggests allowing at least 6 inches from the top of the bin to the grain for air flow purposes.
Woodruff also referenced the dryness that hit much of Iowa, which may have produced grain with lower moisture levels. He noted that some farmers may not have felt the need to dry down their grain, and that is likely to add risk to the crop.
“All the insects that came in with the grain are in the grain and they are still alive,” he said. “All the mold that came in with the grain is alive. Drying your grain brings kernel temperatures up to a level that kills the insects and mold so it’s easier to store.”
He added that for those looking to store grain until late spring, having it below 15% is important, with lower moisture levels helping the longer it is stored.