Remember SLAM to Keep Stored Grain in Good Shape

With a big crop expected this fall, one many experts say will be best left stored on the farm, there's a premium this year on the practices critical to keeping that grain in the best possible condition, maybe for quite some time.

Keep a four-step strategy in mind when putting that grain -- some of which might be on the damp side this fall -- away in on-farm storage after harvest, according to a report from University of Minnesota Extension crops specialists Phil Glogoza and Dave Nicolai. Remember SLAM: sanitation, loading, aeration, and monitoring.

"These include using appropriate production and harvest practices, maintenance and proper use of grain handling equipment, drying systems, and storage structures. There are four simple steps to maintain postharvest quality and protect stored grains from insects, weather, rodents, self-heating, molds, mycotoxins, and pesticide residues," the specialists say.

First, sanitation: Keep your bins and any other equipment used to get grain from the hopper to the bin clean and free of any leftover grain. This kind of cleanup is best done in the spring or early summer to avoid any disease or mold to flourish.

"Even small amounts of moldy or insect-infested grain left in equipment can contaminate a bin of new grain. Repairs such as sealing cracks and/or holes can be completed simultaneously. Old grain being moved to different storage should be screened and, if infested, treated by fumigating," according to Glogoza and Nicolai. "After cleaning and repairing, use a residual bin spray to treat the insect surfaces of the bins at least two weeks prior to filling. It is better to treat during the warmer months when insects are active. If treatments were applied more than three months earlier, an additional treatment should be applied two to three weeks before new grain is placed in the bin."

Now for loading. This process refers to "creating a grain mass with several basic properties that make it easy to handle and that lead to long life," the University of Minnesota specialists say. That means keeping it clean, dry, and uniform.

"Specific practices that help approach the ideal grain mass include limiting kernel damage through slow drying methods, limiting the number of times grain must be handled, operating augers and elevators at capacity and slowest possible speeds, and storing grain in aerated structures," according to Glogoza and Nicolai. "Immediately after the bin is filled and the grain leveled, apply a surface treatment (top dressing) of an approved grain protectant. The surface treatment will help control insects that enter the grain through roof openings. Surface treatments alone generally will not keep the grain insect-free, but they can reduce insect populations during the storage period. Surface treatments are effective if the following limitations are understood: Surface treatment will not control an established insect infestation already in stored grain. The surface treatment should not be disturbed since it provides the protective barrier against insect infestations."

Aeration is the next key step in ensuring you're putting grain away in good shape. That means keeping it at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler -- cooling it down gradually -- which will stem insect activity and keep the grain cleaner. But take care of aeration and cooling uniformly.

"Move the cooling front completely through and out of the grain mass and maintain low grain temperatures as long as possible during storage," say Glogoza and Nicolai. "It is not necessary to rewarm dry grain with fans during the spring and summer."

Finally, once the grain's been cleaned, loaded, and aerated properly, monitoring that grain becomes the biggest priority. Make sure the temperature stays in the right range, both during the winter and following summer. And keep your eye out for insect pressures, which can come on strong later on even if the grain's been treated with a surface treatment or pesticide.

"Check stored grain regularly for temperature, moisture, insects, and molds. Inspect stored grain every seven to 14 days when either outdoor or grain temperatures are greater than about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but if the grain is in good condition and has been cooled to less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit, you can increase the inspection interval to once every three to four weeks during cold weather. Check for insects by screening them from the grain, examining kernels for damage, looking for webbing, detecting off-odors, or monitoring grain temperatures. Insect infestations can raise grain temperatures to as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit," according to Glogoza and Nicolai. "During the summer and fall, insect infestations are usually near the surface of the grain. During cold weather, stored grain insects will congregate at the center and lower portions of the grain mass and may escape detection until extensive heating has developed."

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