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Keep an eye on stored corn this winter

If you've got corn that went into the bin last fall a little on the damp side, now's a good time to check it and make sure it's in good shape before you haul it to town.

Just shy of 3/4 of farmers responding this week to an poll say they've got at least some of their 2013 crop left to sell. Some farmers say part of why they've sold possibly ahead of when they normally would is because it wasn't in the best shape when they put it in storage last fall, and keeping that grain dry and cool is starting to become more of a challenge this winter than normal.

"My corn went in the bin wet and didn't dry well. That's one reason it's nearly all gone," says Marketing Talk veteran advisor Jim Meade / Iowa City. "Some I sold way wet and some got dried down, but I didn't have the quality I liked. I've heard of a lot of wet corn going to market."

Adds Marketing Talk veteran advisor Mizzou_Tiger: "I think we are ahead of everything except one bin. It's not bad, but seems to have a bit of heat and moisture every time the fans are fired up."

Compounding the problem of some grain that was put away a little on the damp side last fall is the corn market right now. Recent USDA reports gave the market some hopes of an upturn, and though many farmers may have sold corn earlier to avoid the downturn in prices, hopes of a reversal may keep what grain that's left on farms in tighter hands, says Cargill senior grain merchandiser Ray Jenkins. That could bump the severity of any existing or potential new grain quality issues.

"Most folks will not have trouble storing corn with 16% to 18% moisture through the winter...lots of cold air. It’s the endgame that is the problem. They all go in with a gameplan of moving by spring, but what happens if price doesn’t cooperate?" Eddyville, Iowa-based Jenkins says. "Then they are hanging on to that corn through planting season and they come back in late May and June and find they have blue-eyed mold and other issues."

To prevent those issues from popping up now and later on, keeping a close eye on your grain is the highest priority. Iowa State University (ISU) Extension ag engineer Greg Brenneman recommends checking your bins at least every other week, safely checking for crusted, moist or sticky grain. Also, probe for warm spots. But, if you have larger bins, you may have to rely on temperature monitoring systems, he adds.

"Another way to check for problems within the grain mass is to start the fans for a short period of time and smell the very first air that comes out of the grain. If the fans are blowing air up through the grain, this would need to be checked inside the bin on the grain surface," Brenneman says. "If the fans are pulling air down through the grain, this would need to be checked at the fans. This is probably a 2-person operation, especially for a positive pressure system, because the first flush of air comes out within about 30 seconds for a large drying fan, and probably within the first 3 to 4 minutes even with a small aeration fan. In addition, you can record the temperature of the first air that comes out and check for any changes that have occurred since the last time, because slight increases in temperature can indicate spoilage is starting to occur."

With larger bins comes increased difficulty of thoroughly monitoring, cooling and drying grain, and that should prompt a shift in how farmers take care of these issues, Jenkins says. That will typically start earlier on in the process.

"Many of these guys are building much bigger bins. It is one thing to work through a damage issue in a 10,000- to 20,000-bushel bin, and a completely different issue to fix a damage problem in a 100,000- to 150,000-bushel tank," he says. "As they build the bigger bins, they need to get out of the 'hold it wet through the winter' mentality and start treating that corn like an elevator would: Get it dried when it goes to storage."

What's the best way to keep that grain cool and dry at times like this? Farmers are split on the issue; some say a lower-power system can get the job done, especially when freezing the grain as soon as possible after storing it.

"Froze mine hard. It has always, except for the last year, worked to drop the last 3% to 5% moisture out of the corn," says Marketing Talk senior advisor Hobbyfarmer. "I have found that for me, at least a 2-horsepower fan in a 12,000-bushel bin exhausting will do better than a 5- to 7.5-horsepower fan blowing air through a bin. No condensation on the roof to run down the sides and to get into trouble later."

But, farmers like Marketing Talk veteran advisor Mizzou_Tiger are on the other side of the spectrum: "You might have had some moisture migrate to the center, which is why we are running every 10 to 14 days. To punch that core migration out," he says. "That's the reason I don't freeze our corn. Cool it way down but not freeze. Also try to run fans nonstop once we start filling a bin until it's full. Helps reduce any preferential flow issues. I want power and shallow layers. Have fans on every bin that will pop the roof sheets even when full and have roof vents all the way around to boot."

Regardless of your approach to keeping grain dry and cool this winter, remember that working in and around your bins is not the safest job in the world. As such, don't forget to think safety first when you go to do any work in and around your storage facilities.

"We want to be very careful whenever entering grain bins, especially if any grain has been removed from the bin, or if there is any bridging of grain," ISU's Brenneman says. "Be sure and monitor grain removal, or if the grain bin has been filled. Make sure the surface looks right. If grain has been removed, we should see the column of grain that has been taken out. If there is no evidence of that, there could be a bridging that has occurred that could collapse and rapidly cover someone who is in there. Make sure you have somebody along with you or somebody knows you are out checking in the bins. If possible, use a safety harness. If there is any doubt at all, do not go out on grain."


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