Corn farmers across the Midwest are battling moldy corn this fall, which causes challenges from a grain handling and storage standpoint.

Richard Stroshine, a Purdue University professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, says that if farmers try to operate like they normally do during harvest this year, it could cause some major problems during the storage of this year’s crop.

"I had one elevator manager tell me he hasn't seen anything like this since 1974," Stroshine says. "Farmers are going to have to take extra precaution in storing and drying down their grain this year."

Stroshine says that he is fielding plenty of questions about moldy corn and crop damage reports. He says one farmer estimated 15 percent of the kernels in his harvested corn were damaged by mold.

If you have moldy corn, remove as much of the fine material or broken pieces of corn as possible, dry the grain down to 14 to 14.5 percent moisture, and realize it's not going to store as well as it has in previous years, he notes. If fines aren't removed from the corn crop, they will impede airflow and promote the growth of mold within the grain bin.

"Mold can more easily grow on broken kernels because this is the food source for the fungi and it is more readily available," he explains. They also impede airflow during aeration of stored corn. So, getting rid of the fine material is a good strategy for improving grain storage, especially this year.

Stroshine recommends using the combine's full capabilities to help get rid of the fine material and incorporating high-capacity screen cleaners into the grain-handling system.

From a grain drying and handling standpoint, recognize that corn harvested with a high moisture content will have more kernel damage; thus making it more susceptible to mold damage during storage. There is a certain shelf life or storage time for grain and putting it into a bin after it's been kept at a high moisture content, even for a few days, reduces its shelf life, Stroshine adds.

For example, you decide to harvest the field and get it out of the weather to stop mold growth as soon as possible. As a result, a lot of wet corn may wait for several days to be dried.  During this time, the corn loses its shelf life on the other end. The grain will be more susceptible to molding if it's stressed later on. “So there's a tradeoff,” Stroshine says.

Even though it may slow down harvest, he recommends drying corn to below 15 percent moisture as soon as possible to help prevent any further mold issues.

Planning is the key. Ask yourself, "Can I get it dried without leaving it at a high moisture content for an appreciable amount of time? Can I store it well? Can I handle it properly?"

"Farmers may want to mix their corn with high levels of mold with their good corn, but my recommendation would be to segregate the good corn from the bad," Stroshine concludes. "It should be handled separately. Then, if need be, the producer can blend it later."

Here’s more information about grain handling and storage.

Source: Purdue University