Has the mild winter jeopardized the quality of your stored grain?

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When USDA reported December 1 grain stocks earlier in January, farm storage accounted for 6.18 bil. bu. of corn, 1.14 bil. bu. of soybeans, and 405 million bushels of wheat.  Whether or not you agree with those numbers is one thing, but another issue is the quality of the grain stored on farms.  Certainly, a significant amount has moved to the elevator for the purpose of fulfilling forward contracts for January delivery.  But there will still be a significant volume of grain which has been subject to non-winter temperatures, and some bins may have “come to life” during some of the warmer spells of the past few weeks.  Are you hesitant to look in your bins?

Keeping your stored grain safe is the same challenge a small town banker may have.  The vault may only hold several hundred thousand dollars, but to a farm family that may be the entire years’ income and the last thing you want to happen is being forced to sell it at salvage value.  Your crop insurance policy does not cover grain that might spoil in the bin.  And the odd winter weather we have had puts in jeopardy some of the stored grain and creates challenges for farmers who need to keep the air flowing.

In the next several days your state climatologist will be issuing his or her report on January weather and how much warmer it may have been compared to other years back to 1895.  That should be a reminder your grain bins may need more attention than usual.  University of Nebraska ag engineer Tom Dorn points out a number of issues that you want to put on your checklist, if your stored grain is still a work in progress. 

Dorn says a lot of grain went into the bin in good condition, because early maturity and harvest conditions produced dry grain.  But the warm fall temperatures meant grain went into the bin too warm to maintain the quality of the grain; and it should have been cooled to about 40º F as outside temperatures fell.  But the grain should not be cooled to the point of freezing.

If your grain is cool, but still higher moisture than you would like going into the spring, Dorn says wait for a warmer day with low humidity to turn on the fan for more aeration.  But he says there may be some times when putting air into the grain will also put more moisture into it. Whether that happens depends on the temperature of the grain.  He says, “When the air temperature is 50ºF and the relative humidity is 50%, the dew point temperature is 32º, and when the grain temperature is lower than the dew point temperature, air will condense moisture onto the grain until the air stream warms the grain mass above the dew point temperature.”  He is concerned about the development of frost in the grain, which not only adds moisture but retards air movement through the grain.

If you have had blowing snow drop into the top of your bin, warmer temperatures will convert that to moisture in the grain and home to insects and mold, so beware of any snow that has made its way into the bin.  When you check the bin, open the roof hatch, then turn on the fan and climb back up.  Dorn says let the air hit you in the face.  If the air is warmer than expected, more moist than expected, or condensation underneath the bin roof you have a problem.

Dorn says run the fans long enough to uniformly cool the grain and to do that use a probe with a grain thermometer.  Probe down 3-4 feet, probe several feet in from the bin wall, and probe several spots in the center of the bin.  If the temperature readings are more than 8º apart, run the fan until the temperatures are more uniform.

As the weather warms the temperature of the grain must be helped to warm up as well.  Warm it in stages up to 40º, and if the moisture is too high for spring and summer storage, then do some additional drying on days of low humidity.  Keep the corn within the typical range of day and nighttime temperatures.

Summary:
Unseasonable temperatures during the winter may have created problems within grain bins, in case the stored grain was above the typical 15% moisture for corn and 13% for soybeans.  Because of the value of the grain, farmers should keep close watch on the quality and be prepared to aerate it if spoilage is a potential.  Check the quality frequently, probe the grain to determine uniformity of temperature, and aerate the grain if there is a more than 8º variation.  Beware that introducing warmer air into cooler grain can cause condensation or even frost, both of which will create further problems.

Source: FarmGate blog


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