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Keeping Up With Routine Inspections Key to Keeping Grain at High Quality Through Summer

With corn carryout expected to be at the highest level in almost 30 years just before this year’s harvest, growers across the Midwest no doubt have a lot of grain in storage this summer.

Temperatures that have been well into the triple digits in recent weeks combined with unexpected liquid seeping into bins may lead to quality loss, and with prices already low, growers need to ensure they don’t suffer discounts due to mold or other moisture damage. 

Unexpected condensation, small cracks, or weathered bins that allow moisture to seep into containers may lead to quality losses and lower prices when the grain is sold, said Emerson Nafziger, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois. The biggest mistake farmers can make is to let their grain stay in storage without checking on it frequently.

“The big thing is not to let it sit there unchecked and unexamined the whole summer only to find that it has a bunch of mold growth,” Nafziger told Successful Farming magazine. “The mold growth doesn’t reduce the weight, but discolored kernels go in as a quality factor and the grain grading can get discounted from that.”

While most farmers know how to maintain their grain, some aren’t aware that condensation and moisture can form unevenly around the edges of a bin, he said.

Another problem occurs when air doesn’t move uniformly around the bin, which causes some areas to stay dry while moisture collects in others, Nafziger said. Growers checking their grain may see several layers of dry kernels before discovering that moisture formed under the surface.

Shawn Shouse, a field specialist with Iowa State University Extension, said producers should inspect their bins when empty to ensure they’re in good condition and they're not allowing in water. It's important to keep them clean and dry on the inside to avoid mold buildup and rust.

Keeping up on visual and physical inspections can ensure bins are in tip-top shape and good working order, Shouse said, reiterating Nafziger’s sentiments.

“Having them clean and dry is helpful in avoiding places where moisture can stay against the steel and accelerate the rusting process,” he said. “It’s amazing how many things we miss on the farm by not doing routine visual inspections to make sure everything is in place or in good working condition. Take advantage of when the bin is empty to look for any indications of issues that might start to creep up.”

Common maintenance problems can stem from damage during mechanical accidents such as a piece of machinery hitting the side of the bin, decay in older containers around openings, and overused bins that show signs of structural failure or bending, which also can allow moisture in, he said.

Growers should inspect the inside of the bins to ensure there’s no moldy grain stuck to the wall that can lead to interior rust. As long as there are no structural issues, however, a grain bin can last generations, Shouse said.

Another problem, though not as prevalent or pressing, is damage from insects.

The University of Kentucky said in a research paper that sanitizing before filling the bin, not mixing old and new grain, and storing only dry corn with a moisture content topping out at 13% are all key to ensuring that crop quality remains high.

“Store only clean, dry grain,” the report said. “A small percentage difference in moisture content can make a big difference in the probability of a damaging insect infestation. It is also advisable to clean grain before binning. Small pieces of dockage and cracked or split grain provide food for insects not normally found in whole grain. Even though most of these insects will not feed on whole grain, their biological processes produce heat and moisture that can greatly reduce the stored grain’s quality.”

Nafziger said insect problems are extremely rare, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare in the unlikely event they occur. For soybeans, he doesn’t know of any problems with insects in soybeans, but that it’s more of a possibility in corn and wheat.

“I’ve not really heard of someone who deals with stored-grain insects, but I’m sure they’re always a danger, especially in grain crops,” he said. “In grains there might be hungry insects that get in and start laying eggs, so that might be a problem. High temperatures will make this happen more, so if you pull cold air though a bin, that’ll probably do in any insects that might be in there.”

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