Grain was harvested at higher moisture levels this past fall on many farms in Kentucky and neighboring states. With much of that grain now in storage bins, growers need to take extra precautions in managing it.
"A point or two of moisture makes a lot of difference in the storability of the crop. Higher moisture levels require more care," said Sam McNeill, Extension agricultural engineer with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
Management is important in reducing storage losses of a valuable commodity. Averaging around $3.75 a bushel for February delivery, corn prices are about 30 percent higher than the 2000 to 2007 average, said Cory Walters, UK agricultural economist. At that price, a completely full 50,000-bushel bin is worth around $187,500.
Growers need to check for mold, insects and hot pockets in the bins. Grain stored at higher moisture levels is more susceptible to mold growth. If hot pockets develop, the warmer temperatures promote both mold and insects.
Fortunately, cooler temperatures over the past few weeks have kept quality in control.
"It's cool enough now that there's a wider safety margin for moisture, but growers need to make sure that it's uniformly cool throughout the bin," McNeill said.
Corn should be stored within 10 degrees of the average monthly temperature. For December in Kentucky, it's 37 degrees. While the cooler air won't help dry the grain, it will prevent hot pockets from developing.
"If temperatures were to rise to around 60 degrees, growers would need to closely watch for hot pockets, even in corn at 16 percent moisture," he said.
Growers should routinely check the temperature of their stored grain by taking samples from several locations and depths in the bin. It can be difficult to check grain temperature below the surface, especially in full bins. Temperature cables, although expensive, can aid in this task. Growers have another opportunity to check grain temperatures at varying levels when they move grain from the bin to sell.
To prevent hot pockets, growers may want to intermittently run fans to help keep grain temperatures cool by providing a fresh burst of cold air to the grain.
Growers should always take safety precautions when inspecting stored grain and make sure to do bin inspections in pairs. In the past, some producers were trapped or suffocated in bins when unsafe practices were used.
More information on managing storage bins is provided in UK extension publication AEN-45, "Aeration, Inspecting and Sampling of Grain Storage Bins," which is available at county Extension offices.