A growing number of Alabama producers are choosing to store harvested grains on their farms rather than taking the crop directly from the field to the grain elevator.

North Alabama grain farmer Heath Darnell has chosen to build grain bins on his farm.

“Old timers say storage will pay for itself,” he says. “And I think that’s probably true.” Acknowledging the initial cost to build bins, Darnell says that on-farm storage has allowed him greater freedom in making both harvesting and marketing decisions.

While farmers may have more options by using on-farm bins, an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System warns producers must keep a watchful eye on their grain.

“You cannot just fill a bin with grains and forget about them,” says Kathy Flanders, who specializes in grain and forage pests.

One of the things farmers must do is monitor their stored grain for insect pests.

“Insects develop quickly in warm grain,” says Flanders. “In about 30 days, you can have a new batch of insects.”

She explains that effective pest monitoring requires more than looking into the grain bin.

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“If you can see bugs crawling around, chances are there are way too many insects.”

Flanders recommends that farmers use a grain probe or specially designed pitfall traps.

“A good rule of thumb is to check the grain for insects every two weeks in summer and every month in winter. Take five grain probes per bin or put in five traps per bin. If traps are used, place the traps and then come back in a few days to check.”

She says these traps will detect insect activity before critical levels are reached.

Eric Schavey, a regional Extension row crop agent, says sometimes these traps can be hard to spot once they are placed in the bins. He has come up with an easy and inexpensive way to locate the traps.

“Instead of the little red zip tie that only sticks up a few inches above the surface, I have added a small flag on some that I use in upper levels of the grain. Others, I have added larger flags on longer stems that I can push farther down into the bin. These flags make it much easier to spot the traps at removal time.”

If farmers use a grain probe, they will have to use some type of sieve or colander to sift the insects out.

Regional Extension row crop agents across the state can help producers develop monitoring strategies as well as identify insects. Farmers can locate one by calling the county Extension office.

Flanders adds that not all bugs are created equal.

“There are definitely several kinds — weevils and lesser grain borers — that cause far more damage than the other insects commonly found in grain bins. These types are particularly problematic because they attack whole kernels.”

If farmers discover insects, they have several options.

1) They can sell the grain while insect populations are still low.

2) Flanders says producers may find it necessary to fumigate the grain bin.

3) One other alternative is to move grain from one bin to another and spray it with a grain protectant as it is moved.

More information on monitoring stored grain can be found at http://www.aces.edu/dept/grain/StoredGrainInformation.php.