Keep it simple. That's how grain drying/storage consultant John Gnadke, AGS Inc., Ankeny, IA, advises growers on maintaining grain quality once the crop is out of the field.

Under contract with Pioneer Hi-Bred to share his 43 years of grain drying/storage experience, Gnadke gives presentations at grower meetings across the country. He speaks on the topic of “The Most Common Mistakes Made in Storing Grain.”

He offers shortcuts to calculations for determining correct fan capacities, airflows and aeration times in a 36-page booklet, “Quality Grain Care: A Grower's Quick Reference.”

That guide is the result of combing through hundreds of documents from university researchers and manufacturers. The result of his efforts: Simplified approaches drawing on years of working with producers on solving drying/storage problems and getting feedback from them in the course of consulting for such clients as food processing companies.

With record crop prices and ever-larger on-farm storage bins, the stakes in properly storing grain are higher than ever, Gnadke says.

With the 60,000-300,000-bu. bins found on many farms today, an error in grain-storage management is quickly magnified into a major toll on the bottom line, he says.

The storage volume challenge that farmers face is compounded by grain buyers' quality expectations, which are higher than ever at today's prices, according to Gnadke. “I've heard it in four different states. They (grain users) want perfect grain when they're paying so much for it (corn),” he says.

Of course, grain quality begins with properly adjusted combines and well-managed drying systems. Those steps are the subject of other presentations Gnadke makes under his 14-year consulting agreement with Pioneer.

A producer/client is first asked to furnish an inventory of his drying/storage facilities and how they're operated.

Some of the points Gnadke likes to make in avoiding grain-storage mistakes:

  • Check grain every two weeks. “I tell them (producers) we have to be proactive.” For problems less than two weeks old, Gnadke says, “I could always come up with a plan to get them out of trouble.”

  • Be aware of how much higher the stakes are in large-capacity bins, where management mistakes can quickly add up to big losses.

  • Advice to dry corn to 13% moisture for long-term storage isn't necessarily a good idea. You can safely store long term at 15%, and retain the weight of those two percentage points of moisture to sell, Gnadke says.

  • When selling grain out of bins at different times in the summer months, stay with the same bin until it's empty before going to the next bin. When grain is removed, the divot (depression that forms in the center of the grain mass) sets up a path of least resistance to airflow, because the grain depth there is shallower. That grain is warmed, causing condensation on the outer, cooler grain - leading to mold conditions.

  • Begin with proper airflow and roof venting to avoid condensation on the bin ceiling. Many storage systems have inadequate roof-venting area, Gnadke says. He recommends 15% more roof-vent area than the industry standard to reduce air velocity through vents. Inadequate venting sets up channeling of airflow through the grain mass. That creates temperature differences within the grain mass, leading to moisture condensation and spoilage. Seventy-five to 85% of bins have inadequate roof venting area, he says.

  • Don't freeze corn. Corn between 16.5% and 20% moisture can form ice crystals that block airflow through the grain mass, he adds. If corn freezes, run aeration fans at night when temperatures are 35-40° F to thaw the grain. When it's thawed, run the fans only during the day to dry down.