Large harvests and a lack of railcars are forcing North Dakota producers and elevators to store grain on the ground.

The risk of crop loss is higher when grain is stored on the ground than when in bins, so ground piles should be considered short-term storage and monitored frequently, according to Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service engineer.

The success of storing grain on the ground depends on a combination of variables that can be controlled – such as site preparation, storage design, use of aeration and storage management – and factors that can't, such as the weather, he says.

Here is his advice for preventing crop loss:

* Select a site that's elevated, has good drainage, is large enough to accommodate the volume of crop being stored and has roughly 130 ft. of turnaround space for trucks dropping off the grain.

* Prepare a pad for the grain to rest on by mixing lime, fly ash or cement in the soil to prevent soil moisture from wetting the grain. Make a concrete or asphalt pad if the site will be used for several years.

* Create a crown in the middle of the pad with a gradual slope away from the center for water drainage. Also make sure the area around the pad drains well.

* Run piles north and south to allow the sun to dry the sloping sides.

* Build a retaining wall to increase storage capacity.

* Place only cool (less than 60° F), dry, clean grain on the ground. Maximize pile size to reduce the ratio of grain on the surface that is exposed to potential weather damage to the total grain volume.

* Build the pile uniformly for maximum grain surface slope and avoid creating hills, valleys, folds and crevices that will collect water.

* Form the pile quickly and cover it immediately to minimize its exposure to moisture, wind and birds.

* Install an aeration system to cool the grain so its temperature is uniform and equal to the average outdoor temperature. Cool temperatures minimize mold growth, limit moisture movement and control insects.

* Check grain temperatures and moisture content at several locations in the pile every two to three weeks.

* Frequently check the pile's cover for rodent-caused perforations, damage from wind or ice, worn spots and vandalism, and make repairs.

* Inspect retaining walls for separation or movement at the connections and deterioration of the materials in the walls. Also make sure wall anchors still are holding.

* When removing the grain, load it from the center of the pile to prevent uneven pressure on the retaining wall.

* Try to separate spoiled grain from the pile to limit the amount of grain that needs cleaning, drying and blending with other grain stored in outdoor piles.

Hellevang says producers also have alternatives to piling grain on the ground, such as storing grain in empty barns and pole buildings used for machinery storage. Here are some tips when using these buildings:

* Make sure the site is well drained.

* Strengthen buildings to support the pressure of the stored grain. Most buildings were not designed or built to withstand any pressure on the walls.

* Check with the building's manufacturer on how deep to fill the structure with grain.

For more information, view publication AE-84, "Temporary Grain Storage," on the NDSU Extension Service's Web site. Also check out a list of grain handling, drying and storage publications.