Grain storage tips

More than in most seasons, managing production in the bin this year will be critical to ensure the crop is kept in good condition until it is marketed. Grain is going into storage in less than ideal condition – much of it is coming off tough or damp as the fall is proving to be a challenge with regular intermittent precipitation and slow drying conditions. Active management in this area is critical to the overall profitability of the operation.

“The mantra this year is dry the grain before putting it in storage,” says Joy Agnew, an agricultural engineer and project manager of agricultural research services at the Prairie Machinery Institute (PAMI) in Humbolt, Saskatchewan. Agnew is also an agricultural bioengineer and has done a lot of work in the area of grain storage and grain storage systems. “If that is not possible, then get it as cold as you can as soon as you can. Or sell it if neither of those options are possible.”

“Once the grain is in storage, it requires regular monitoring to ensure it does not go out of condition,” adds Agnew. “Temperature cables are very popular and cost effective to monitor the temperature of the grain throughout the bin,” says Agnew. “The cables are put in place before the bin is filled and a reader hooked up on the outside provides a temperature profile of the grain in bin at any time.” This technology is constantly advancing and now there are systems that are wireless and will send email or text notifications when the temperature rises beyond pre-set limits. Problems arise in storage when there are temperature differences throughout the bin. Monitoring can provide peace of mind that the bin maintains a constant temperature and there are no surprises when it is opened.

“The next biggest misconception out there is the difference between aeration and natural air drying,” says Agnew. “Drying and cooling are very different and it’s critical farmers know this as there is a lot at stake if they don’t.” This is particularly important this fall when grain is going into the bin above the ideal moisture content for long-term storage.

Aeration is cooling only and is a valuable part of grain storage management. Natural air drying, on the other hand, will actually remove moisture from the grain but requires much higher airflows than the typical aeration fan can provide. High capacity fans are required to dry grain in the bin. Aeration requires about 0.1 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of airflow per bushel. A 5,000 bushel bin would require about 500 cfm from fans to cool the grain.

Natural air drying requires at least 10 times that amount of air to dry grain in storage – one cfm per bushel of grain or 5,000 cfm for a 5,000 bushel bin. Aeration fans could never achieve those air flow rates and, therefore, moisture removal will be minimal.

“Grain can be dried with heated air or with natural air, or with natural air and supplemental heating,” says Agnew. “After drying, it is very important to cool the grain off again. This is at least one thing that is easy to do on the Prairies this time of year.”

There are a lot of resources available for growers as they face a winter of extra vigilance on stored grain. The Canadian Grain Commission is a great starting point. PAMI has great resources available on the engineering side of storage.