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Prepping bins for prime time

If you've ever failed to double-check a grain spreader mounting when tending to pre-harvest chores, you know what can happen. A suspension chain can come loose, and the spreader will operate in a lopsided manner not only not spreading grain but also eventually disintegrating spewing parts across the bin, which quickly became buried in grain.

To help you prepare your storage bins for harvest, here are seven duties to add to your list of must-do chores:

1. Clean empty bins.

This chore is essential, but it is often overlooked. And for good reason. It's a summer job nobody wants to do. But the invitation for insect infestation from lack of cleanliness is too great to bypass this task. Beyond removing old grain, also clean and sanitize aeration ducts, augers, and other places insects could feed on dust and fine material, according to Extension experts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While it's difficult to thoroughly clean under perforated drying floors, much of the debris can be removed by removing the drying fan and using a grain vacuum. UNL Extension recommends hiring a commercial pesticide applicator to fumigate bins once they're cleaned to help prevent future infestations. 

2. Service and then operate bin fans. 

Take the time to inspect burners, fan housings, fan blades, belts, guards, bearings, and electrical controls and switches. If the aeration system shuts down during drying, a bin of 19% moisture corn with a starting temperature of 75°F. can lose a full market grade in about five days, according to Kansas State University.

3. Inspect dryers and then operate them prior to use.

While you're at it, be sure to calibrate your grain moisture meter in order to avoid overdrying or underdrying grain. Finish the job with a thorough cleaning, particularly of stand-alone dryers. Ignoring cleaning can introduce insect infestation from one bin to another. Dirty dryers are also less energy efficient and run slower.

4. Install a monitoring system in every bin.

Temperature and moisture cables are key components of these systems. They monitor humidity, aeration, and temperature, which can be managed from the palm of your hand or from a desktop computer. This helps ensure fans are run exactly as long as they need to without risking spoilage if turned off to soon or overdrying corn and wasting electricity if run too long.

5. Check fan capacity on large bins.

A typical on-farm bin was once 27 to 36 feet in diameter and would store grain 18 to 22 feet deep. Today, average bins are 42 to 48 feet in diameter storing grain up to 32 feet, almost three times the volume of earlier bins. Larger bins must be equipped with fans capable of pushing .3 cubic feet of air per minute per bushel (.3 cfm/bu) through the bin, according to UNL Extension. Those recommendations are just for aerating grain. Using a 48-foot bin for drying is a much different situation.

The minimum airflow recommended for drying corn in Nebraska (check with your local Extension service for recommendations) is 1.0 cfm/bu. A 48-foot-diameter bin with grain 30 feet deep would require three 40-hp. centrifugal fans on separate transition ducts to produce 1 cfm/bu airflow.

Static pressure is affected by grain depth and airflow. At a given grain depth and airflow, the diameter of the bin does not affect the static pressure.

6. Pull auger flighting from bin unloaders to check for wear.

As little as 10% to 15% wear can cut an auger's capacity by 25% and greatly accelerate grain damage.

7. Core bins immediately after harvest is done.

True, this isn't a preharvest chore, but it is a chore many farmers forget to complete. This task removes the accumulation of fine material that often builds up in the center (core) of the bin during filling. Even with state-of-the-art grain spreaders, fines can accumulate in the core, filling the air pockets between kernels and increasing airflow resistance. That means grain in the core area doesn't get as much airflow, which means it will take longer to cool the core than the rest of the bin. 

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