Consider Pros, Cons of Alternative Grain Storage Methods

Figure 1. Looking for a shorter term grain storage option? Storing grain in poly bags can be a good option, if it's stored at an appropriate moisture content and monitored. (Photos by Ken Hellevang)
Figure 1. Storing grain in poly bags can be a good option, if it's stored at an appropriate moisture content and monitored. (Photos by Ken Hellevang)

Consider Pros, Cons of Alternative Grain Storage Methods August 23, 2016

Grain can be stored in many types of containers, but all storage options should keep the grain dry and provide adequate aeration to control grain temperature, according to North Dakota State University grain drying expert Ken Hellevang.

"Grain must be dry and cool (near the average outdoor temperature) when placed in alternative storage facilities because providing adequate, uniform airflow to dry grain or cool grain coming from a dryer is not feasible in these facilities," says Hellevang, an NDSU Extension Service agricultural engineer.

Producers should look carefully at the advantages and disadvantages of the nontraditional storage methods they are considering, he adds.

Structural Issues

Grain pushing against the walls can damage buildings not built for grain storage. The walls must be anchored securely, and their structural members must be strong enough to transfer the force to the building poles or support structure without breaking or bending excessively.

Typically, you will need additional poles and a grain wall to support the grain force in a pole building. Hellevang advises hiring an engineer to complete a structural design or analysis, or contacting the building company for guidance to prevent a structural failure.

Before placing grain in a building previously used for grain storage:

  • Look for anything out of alignment, such as a bowing wall.
  • Check the roofline. Bowing or bending indicates the load on the building has exceeded the load for which it was designed and built and has damaged the structure.
  • Examine connections for separation or movement. A connector failure can lead to a building failure. You may need to reinforce the connection by adding a gusset or splice.

Storing in Bags

Storing grain in poly bags is a good option, but it does not prevent insect infestations or mold growth in damp grain. Hellevang recommends:

  •  Placing grain in bags at recommended storage moisture contents based on grain and outdoor temperatures. Heating will occur if the grain exceeds a safe storage moisture content, and grain in a bag cannot be cooled with aeration. The average temperature of dry grain will follow the average outdoor temperature.
  •  Selecting an elevated, well-drained site for the storage bags
  •  Placing the bags north and south so solar heating is similar on both sides.Sunshine on just one side heats that side, which can lead to moisture accumulation in the grain on the cool side.
  •  Monitoring the grain temperature at several places in the bags. Wildlife can puncture the bags, creating an entrance for moisture and releasing the grain smell, which attracts more wildlife.

Never enter a grain bag because it is a suffocation hazard. If unloading the bag with a pneumatic grain conveyor, the suction can "shrink wrap" a person so he or she cannot move and will limit space for breathing.

Grain Piles

Grain frequently is stored short term in outdoor piles. However, precipitation is a severe problem in uncovered grain. A 1-inch rain will increase the moisture content of a 1-foot layer of corn by 9 percentage points. This typically leads to the loss of at least 2 feet of grain on the pile surface.

A 1-foot loss on the surface of a 25-foot-high, cone-shaped pile is about 13% of the grain. This is a loss of $39,000 if the grain value is $4 per bushel.

If creating outdoor piles:

  •  Use a cover to prevent water infiltration. Aeration and wind blowing on the pile will not dry wet grain adequately to prevent spoilage.
  •  Prepare the ground surface where grain will be piled with lime, fly ash or cement to prevent soil moisture from reaching the grain.
  •  Place the pile so the storage floor is higher than the surrounding ground to minimize moisture transfer from the soil into the grain.
  • Make sure the ground surface is crowned so moisture that does get into the pile drains out rather than creating a wet pocket that leads to grain deterioration.
  • Examine the entire area to assure that flooding will not occur during major rain events.
Uncovered, deteriorating grain pile
Figure 2. Uncovered grain piles can lead to significant losses, given the wide area of grain suffering damage.

Grain Covers

A combination of restraining straps and suction from the aeration system holds grain covers in place. Place perforated ducts on the grain under the cover to provide a controlled air intake for the aeration system and airflow near the cover to minimize condensation problems.

Properly sized and spaced ducts also should be placed on the ground under the pile to pull air through the grain. If you use a perforated grain wall, the aeration ducts near the wall should not be perforated or the airflow through the grain will be limited to near the wall.

Cooling Stored Grain

Cool grain with aeration to reduce the insect infestation potential. Insect reproduction is reduced at temperatures below about 60 F, insects are dormant below about 50°F, and insects can be killed by extended exposure to temperatures below about 30°F.

Cooling grain as outdoor temperatures cool reduces moisture migration and the condensation potential near the top of the grain pile. In addition, grain moisture content and temperature affect the rate of mold growth and grain deterioration, with the allowable storage time approximately doubling with each 10-degree reduction in grain temperature.

The grain should be cooled whenever the average outdoor temperature is 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the grain. It should be cooled to near or below 30°F for winter storage in the northern states and near or below 40°F in states with warmer winter temperatures.

Aeration ducts need to have perforations sized and spaced correctly for air to enter and exit the ducts uniformly and obtain the desired airflow through the grain. The maximum spacing for aeration ducts is equal to the grain depth to achieve acceptable airflow uniformity.


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