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Storage solutions

Early estimates show farmers will be short storage for a third of the crop this fall.

Harvest 2020 is stacking up to be a repeat of 2019 when it comes to storage. Time is essential to get additional storage built by harvest … or more likely by the middle to end of harvest.

If you are short on storage and can’t get a bin put up in time, there is another option besides taking grain to the elevator. 

You can successfully hold grain in temporary storage in existing buildings (machine shed, hoop barn, etc.) for several months until a new bin is ready. As a rule of thumb, you need to provide 1¼ cubic feet of storage space for each bushel you need to store.

The key is creating a temporary holding area that minimizes quality losses. “Sufficiently dry corn stored in piles only during cooler fall and winter weather does not usually need to be aerated,” says Dirk Maier of Iowa State University.

There is a strategy to temporary storage, points out Gary Woodruff of GSI. “The main thing is that it is under cover in an existing building that has a solid (concrete or asphalt) floor,” he says. “The goal is to have that grain dried down to 13% (14% at the most). Ideally, it should be the last grain you harvest that comes out of the field at 13% and as cool (50°F. or less) as possible.”

Next, it is crucial that grain be held in temporary storage only until January, maybe February at the latest, after which it needs to be moved to a bin or market, Woodruff adds.

The one thing “you have to understand right up front about putting grain in a temporary pile is that you are likely not going to get aeration in it,” Woodruff says. “And aeration is key to long-term grain storage.”

What about outdoor storage?

If temporary storage indoors isn’t available, as a last resort you can hold grain in an outdoor pile. To avoid excessive spoilage losses, you need to invest in site preparation. Good drainage and the way a pad is created are crucial to success, says North Dakota State University Extension engineer Ken Hellevang.

Hellevang also advises placing 6-millimeter plastic on the surface to prevent ground moisture from getting grain wet.After the storage size is calculated, select a location that is well drained. The storage pad itself should be crowned under the pile, Hellevang advises. A 1% to 2% slope offers good drainage. Create the pad by mixing lime, fly ash, or cement in the soil before compacting it to reduce water permeability. Technically, the amount of compression necessary for a good pad should approach 95% of the standard Proctor density. This value can be measured by an engineering firm using a density gauge.When sizing up an area, include space for conveying equipment and maneuvering trucks and trailers. Trucks need ¼ to ½ acre (or a 130-foot diameter) to turn around.The first step is estimating how much area you need to hold crop overflow. A detailed area estimation table can be found on page 6 of the Kansas State University publication Emergency Storage of Grain: Outdoor Piling (publication MF-2363). 

Finally, when building the pile, keep the drop distance from the spout of the auger to the pile at a minimum. Doing so will achieve maximum slope. The maximum angle of repose and pile height occurs when grain rolls down the side of the pile.

You may want to cover the pile with plastic tarps if the fall is wet and if the pile is left exposed for several months. Hellevang says just 1 inch of rainfall evenly distributed across a pile could potentially rewet the top 12 inches of grain to near 9% moisture.

Another storage alternative is to invest in a grain bagging system. A 10-foot-diameter bag, for example, can store about 60 bushels per foot. Grain put in a bag should be dry and cool, Hellevang adds.

The cost of a single-use storage bag is around 5¢ to 7¢ per bushel plus loading and unloading equipment, which can cost between $50,000 and $165,000.

Grain bins are in ample supply but crews are getting booked fast

If you need to add storage to house this fall’s crop, the time to make that investment is now. The challenge isn’t obtaining a grain bin as manufacturers report ample supplies. “It’s more a matter of having available workers to get a bin erected in time,” warns Gary Woodruff of GSI.

The COVID-19 crisis presented challenges to bin companies this spring, “We’ve figured out how to keep manufacturing going while keeping our workers safe,” says Steve Sukup of Sukup Manufacturing, “and we are fortunate to have a good supply of steel to meet our needs to create bins.”

Sukup estimates the countryside could lack 30% of needed grain storage by the start of harvest “if we have a bumper crop and exports remain sluggish. Barring increased exports, we are going to be short storage. So if you are lacking space to put away this year’s crop and are considering adding a bin, the time to make that purchase decision is immediate,” he urges.

Woodruff adds that, depending on your location in the country and your bin dealer’s availability of workers, you may not have a new bin available to hold grain until the middle or last part of this year’s harvest. “Our dealers are very good at getting bins built. But demand is going to dictate their ability to meet your needs,” Woodruff says.

2019 stored corn crop is in grave peril

Last season is taking a toll on 2019 stored corn. “The 2019 crop went into storage wetter than usual and had lower test weights, both of which reduced its storability,” explains Charles Hurburgh of Iowa State University. “This means that much of the 2019 stored crop is borderline or going out of condition right now. Its storage time is used up!”

Hurburgh urges farmers to monitor stored crop weekly but also to seriously consider moving 2019 stored corn to market — now. “Don’t keep it. There is a threat of hot spots and blue eye mold developing in the grain this sumer,” he warns.

If you can’t sell 2019 stored corn now, then follow these recommendations to prevent it from going out of condition.

  • Check grain weekly throughout the summer. Climb to the top of bins but don’t enter bins — if they have crusted over, you could become entrapped in grain. “Look to see if a crust is forming on the grain, and smell to detect molding odors,” says Gary Woodruff of GSI. “An increase in surface moisture on the grain usually is the first sign of problems. Remember that an automated aeration controller does not replace regular weekly or biweekly physical checks.” 
  • Raise the temperature of stored grain to match the outside temperature in 15°F. increments until the grain is up to 50°F. You should have started raising the temperature this spring. After that, hold that temperature level into the summer for as long as possible. Large differences in temperature (between the grain and outside dew point temperatures) can cause condensation to collect on cold grain, leading to serious quality issues. 
  • Cool grain with aeration to avoid insect issues, which will begin when temperatures rise above 50°F. and become serious around 75°F.
  • If you spot a problem, immediately start aeration fans to attempt to stop the issue as soon as possible. Aeration may work in shorter bins under 48 feet in diameter. However, it is not possible to get enough air through grain in larger bins to correct problems.

Hurburgh warns that even following these measures may not prevent 2019 stored corn from going out of condition. “I would highly recommend not keeping the crop into the summer months,” he adds.

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