winter grain storage

This year’s weather and higher moisture contents in grain present some challenges for winter grain storage. 

After a year filled with weather challenges for growing and harvesting crops, the effects could linger into the winter when it comes to grain storage.

Charles Hurburgh, an ag engineer with Iowa State University, says this year brings more grain storage challenges than normal.

“It is not business as usual,” he says, “because the variability of the inbound grain is so high with the delayed planting dates. We’ve got a high degree of variability of moisture, and we’ll have test weight issues.”

Test weights are closely tied to storage, Hurburgh says.

“The lower the test weight, the lower the storability,” he says.

Joe Zulovich, University of Missouri Extension ag engineer, says grain quality might not be as good this year.

“From the standpoint of storage, getting the grain dried down for safe long-term storage is maybe even more critical in a wet year,” he says. “Grain quality might not be as good coming out of the field. If you don’t get things dried down and cooled down, the potential for (mycotoxin and mold issues) increases. … I just know when things are wet, things can go bad quicker.”

Zulovich says farmers have been trying to balance waiting on grain to dry in fields against drying costs, with profit margins fairly thin.

With cold weather coming, Zulovich says it is even more important not to put grain in bins if it is too warm and wet.

“If you put hot, moist grain into the cold bin, you have a chance to get condensation,” he says. “You can get moldy growth in the outside 4 to 8 inches.”

Producers have some drying options, although Hurburgh says “no dryer will even out variable moisture.” Many farmers have had crops retain high moisture levels and be slow drying down for harvest. He says mold risks increase with wetter conditions.

“We will have more tendency for mold deterioration in grain with wet grain,” Hurburgh says. “…We can see mold in the field.”

Hurburgh says it’s a good idea to keep track of grain quality to make the best decisions.

“One of the bigger things is to monitor the inbound quality of corn from each field and make some decisions about which corn you want to keep and which corn you want to sell,” he says.

Producers should also keep in mind when fields were planted.

“Chances are they’ll be correlated, planting date and test weight,” Hurburgh says.

He also suggest farmers see what options they have with marketing and timing the delivery of grain.

Chelsea Harbach, University of Illinois Extension educator in commercial agriculture, says the higher moisture can also mean more brittle grain.

“Most of the grain is being harvested at a moisture that’s higher than normal,” she says. “At higher moisture, it’s more brittle. Not only is broken grain more susceptible to mold, it can create hotspots in spoiled grain.”

Getting air on grain and checking on it can help, Harbach says.

“Not only trying to occasionally aerate the stored grain, but if you check the stored grain once a month, for temperature, moisture content, crusts or funky smells, it can help,” she says.

Harbach says the ideal moisture contents for storage are 13.5% or lower for corn and 12.5% for soybeans, although this year it might be tough to get to the ideal.

If grain is not doing well during a regular checkup, Harbach says farmers should prioritize getting the grain out.

“You might have to alter where you sell it and how you market it,” she says.

Meaghan Anderson, field agronomist with Iowa State, says the goal for winter storage is to keep the grain cool and dry.

“It’s easy to say and not as easy to do with the moistures we have on grain this year,” she says.

Throughout the winter, monitor grain regularly, Anderson says.

“Check it once a month through the month of April,” she says, “and then if you’re storing it into the spring and summer, check it more often as it heats up.”

Cool, dry grain helps combat mold.

“If there is any concern for mold, making sure it gets dried down and cooled, so it’s not a good habitat for that mold to continue to grow,” Anderson says.

She says the weather has been challenging, with planting delays and now challenges getting crops harvested.

“The word of the year is ‘delay,’” Anderson says. “…I’ve heard so many times, ‘we’re 24 hours from being in the field,’ and then we would get another rain.”

The variable moistures and low test weights in some fields might lead some farmers to put more grain on the market rather than face the challenges of storing it.

“That’s going to encourage people to put grain on the market and not store it as long,” he says.

Zulovich says older crop moisture testers operate at lower frequencies and sometimes don’t provide as accurate of a reading.

“If you don’t know you’re off, it can increase the chances of a problem,” he says.

Harbach says grain storage challenges are tough for farmers after a difficult year.

“It’s just rubbing salt in the wound for a year that’s already hurting a lot of farmers,” she says.

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.