Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. With corn acres going up, it's time to get creative about storing your harvest this fall.

“A lot of people are expanding corn acres,” says Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State University engineer. In the Red River Valley, that means replacing small grain or soybeans that get 30-40 bu./acre with corn that gets 120-140 bu./acre.

For growers who don't have available bin space or budgets allowing for new ones, one reduced-cost option is reconfiguring existing farm buildings for grain storage, says Bill Wilcke, University of Minnesota ag engineer.

The two big issues for growers who want to convert existing buildings into grain storage are these: grain pressures and aeration, says Jerry Wille, an ag engineer in Ames, IA. Wille says that most walls in existing buildings probably do not have sufficient strength, thus some type of bulkhead is generally needed. Growers should “have an ag engineer look at the walls to see whether they can take the pressure,” he advises.

However, he doesn't advise growers who lack grain bin capacity to try and store grain in other buildings because of the hassle. In his view, “if you can't afford a grain bin, ship it to an elevator.”

Hellevang thinks that some farm buildings, such as machine sheds, are adaptable to grain storage, although he acknowledges that in most cases the walls will need to be strengthened.

There are at least two ways to boost the load capacity of the walls. One, Hellevang says, is by purchasing a bulkhead that acts as a wall several inches away from the existing wall. The other is to build a supporting wall by putting in additional poles — if it's a pole building — and wood planking.

Hellevang suggests meeting with an engineering consultant to determine the precise spacing, since it will be determined in part by how deep the grain storage will be. “I don't recommend storing grain more than three or four feet high against the wall. Err on the safe side,” he says.

In general, Hellevang suggests poles every 4 ft. with 2-in. planking or a grain liner designed for the building.

The engineer says that any building will work for grain storage, providing it has walls and a roof to keep moisture out and drainage to keep the ground under the floor dry.

It's important to install an aeration system, too. “Any aeration system is better than none,” Hellevang says. At a minimum, he recommends a 12-in. aeration duct on the floor and a small fan. He says it's key to keep corn cool, and adds that a fan can be used at almost any humidity level “provided it's not foggy or during an extended rainy period.”

Another option, he says, is to put an unused silo to work. Hellevang again suggests working with a consulting engineer to determine how high a silo can be filled and whether it will need to be reinforced.

Yet other options, Wilcke says, are unused poultry or cattle buildings, which again will need to be reinforced “with a lot of lumber to create self-supporting walls.”

So, experts say that using an existing building for grain storage is a “second choice,” and if growers are thinking of long-term storage, consideration should be given to traditional grain bins.

Editor's Note: For more details on alternative grain storage, go to www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/abeng and choose the publication ae84.