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Tracy Frank, Published February 21 2014

Weather, challenging harvest could increase potential storage problems

FARGO - This is a critical time of year for farmers to check their stored grain, said Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer.

Early snow, a cool fall and early cold winter temperatures made last year challenging for the corn and sunflower harvest, he said in a news release.

“This year, there are some things that are contributing to the increased likelihood of problems,” he said in an interview. “We had a lot of moisture variation in the grain as it was harvested and put into storage. In some areas the grain was not adequately dry as it went into storage. Both of those are going to increase the potential for storage problems. Another thing is when we have temperature variations that occur that can cause condensation issues and moisture accumulation in the bin.”

If farmers don’t check their stored grain and damage occurs, the losses could be substantial, he said.

“It’s critical that they be monitoring that stored grain to make sure that something isn’t happening that’s affecting the value of that stored grain,” he said.

When it’s cold outside, Hellevang said checking stored grain can be one of those tasks producers may overlook. But he recommends checking stored grain every three or four weeks during winter months. As temperatures warm up, farmers will have to check their stored grain every couple of weeks, due to solar heat gain on the bins, he said.

As spring approaches, it’s important to know the grain temperature and moisture content to make appropriate management decisions to maintain the grain’s quality, he said.

Doug Reimers farms corn, soybeans, and wheat north of Jamestown, N.D..

The grain is stored in full floor air grain bins. In the last couple of years, Reimers Farms started using a system called BinManager, which has moisture and temperature cables that hang throughout the grain bin, in some of their bins, he said.

“I can check it online from my cell phone,” Reimers said. “I can see in 4-foot increments throughout the whole entire grain bin, the temperature and moisture of the grain.”

The system helps ensure better grain quality, but it’s not cheap, Reimers said.

The bins without the system still need to be checked by hand.

When checking stored grain, Hellevang gave the following recommendations:

• Search for small changes that could indicate potential problems.

• Grain temperature should be at 20 to 30 degrees. The allowable storage time approximately doubles for every 10 degrees the grain is cooled, but cooling corn below about 20 degrees has no benefit and may increase the potential for condensation on the grain when aerating with warmer air.

• Aeration is not necessary if the grain is at the appropriate temperature.

• Watch for solar radiation as it can cause storage problems by warming stored grain.

(The daily total solar energy heating the south side of a grain bin on Feb. 21 is more than twice the amount as on June 21, Hellevang said, so grain next to the bin wall may be warmer than the average outdoor air temperature.)

• Grain warming is typically limited to a couple of feet near the bin wall and a few feet at the top of the bin, so monitor grain temperature at least in those locations to determine when to operate an aeration fan.

• Do not operate the fan during rain, fog or snow to minimize blowing moisture into the bin,

• Bin vents may frost or ice over if fans are operated when the outdoor air temperature is near or below freezing, which may damage the bin roof. Open or unlatch the fill or access cover during fan operation to serve as a pressure relief valve. Cover the aeration fan when the fan is not operating to prevent pests and moisture from entering the bin and warm wind from heating the grain.

• Collect grain samples and check the moisture content to make sure it is at the desired level.

Many grain moisture meters are not accurate at grain temperatures below about 40 degrees, so when it’s cold, place it in a sealed container, such as a plastic bag, and warm it to room temperature before checking the moisture content.

Hellevang also notes that wet stored grain increases grain-handling hazards.

Low-level exposure to dust and mold can cause symptoms such as wheezing, a sore throat, nasal or eye irrigation, and congestion, he said, noting that higher concentrations can cause allergic reactions, and trigger asthma episodes and other problems.

Grain suffocation is also likely if entering a bin while unloading, Hellevang said, adding that no one should ever enter a grain bin without stopping the auger and using the “lock-out/tag-out” procedures to secure it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526