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Keep your stored grain in good shape

Jeff Caldwell 11/22/2011 @ 9:55am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

As much as farmers in some areas would like it to fade from their memory banks, the hot, dry weather of last summer is still making its presence felt even as the mercury slides, now in the form of grain quality concerns.

In Corn Belt states like Indiana, spring planting was delayed in some areas because of rain. Then, things turned on a dime and summer's heat and dryness choked out the top end of corn and soybean yield potential. Though a crop was still made, those weather extremes caused the grain to take on characteristics that mean keeping it in good shape in storage could be a challenge.

"I have 2 drying bins and have to haul some to finish harvest. When the first bin was dry the first load to come out was cake-like and really piled up in the truck. So I thought I really screwed up, but it tested 15%," says Agriculture.com Crop Talk veteran contributor rawhide."I think we here in Indiana had really better keep a close eye on it."

His situation's fairly common in the eastern Corn Belt, where moisture extremes were the biggest story of the crop year for most farmers. Lower test weights and higher moisture levels at harvest were 2 big consequences of these extremes, and now that's creating some challenges for farmers putting that grain away in storage.

"Low test weight corn can be more susceptible to kernel breakage during harvesting and handling than high test weight corn, and quite often more fine material is produced when corn is harvested at higher moistures," says Matt Roberts, a Purdue University Extension grain storage specialist. "The presence of broken kernels, stalks and cobs in a grain bin can restrict airflow. Even with state-of-the-art grain spreaders, broken kernels and foreign material tend to accumulate in the center of bins."

That makes coring your bins a good idea after you've filled them, Roberts says. That can help eliminate the danger of mold and insects thriving in warmer grain in the center of the bin by removing foreign material and broken kernels.

"Coring can be accomplished by removing several loads of grain from the bin," Roberts says. "It also will help to level the top of the grain mass. Air finds the path of least resistance, and the coring and leveling should eliminate or reduce the higher airflow resistance in the center of the bin. Therefore, the bin will be aerated more evenly. Even if great care is taken to properly set combines and clean the grain, bins still should be cored in order to ensure even airflow."

Also consider whatever you can do to "move" the grain once it's in the bin -- that prevents corn, for example, from "walling" and drying properly, says Crop Talk senior contributor Nebrfarmr. He typically uses a "stirring machine" to keep grain moving in his bins, and in years when some of his corn was picked a little on the wet side, doing so can prevent a lot of headaches, he says.

"Late-planted corn that has been 'hurried up' by a frost needs careful watching. For some reason, it doesn't 'slick up' as well, and it gets wetter after being in storage for a while. My dad used to theorize that the frost made the outer part of the kernel 'freeze dry' and after you put it in the bin, moisture from the center of the kernel would 'sweat' its way to the outside, and cause problems," according to Nebrfarmr. "A couple years ago, when I had corn not quite black-layered before the killing frost, it was coming out of the bin at 14.8%, and it was standing like a wall, and actually 'warm' in a couple places.  However, once it went through an auger, it seemed fine. My other bin was actually a little wetter at 15.3%, and it was fine, as I had a stirring machine in the bin, and ran it overnight every 2 or 3 weeks until I emptied the bin."

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