The relatively warm weather of the past winter was a plus for homeowners paying heating bills. However, it was bad news for stored grain, according to an engineer with the University of Minnesota extension service.

"Grain molds grow faster at warm temperatures," says Bill Wilcke. "So do stored grain insects. Last winter's mild weather will no doubt lead to an increase in stored grain mold and insect problems this spring and summer."

Wilcke encourages farmers and elevator managers to check stored grain as soon as possible for signs of mold and insects. "During the grain inspection, measure grain temperature and moisture at several locations in the bin," he says. "If you find warm or wet grain, musty or sour odors or evidence of mold or insect problems, take action soon – well before summer weather arrives."

Depending on the kind and severity of grain storage problems you find, Wilcke suggests one or more of the following actions:

  • If mold and insects are causing the grain to heat, run aeration fans during the coolest weather available to lower the grain temperature. Consider running fans just at night when air is cooler. Try to keep the temperature of grain you plan to hold into summer at less than 50 degrees F.
  • If grain moisture content is too high, consider drying to a safe moisture level. The moisture level for safe summer storage should not be higher than 14% for corn, 13% for small grains and 12% for soybeans.
  • If grain storage problems are confined to an isolated area in the bin, try to remove just the problem grain without disturbing the good quality grain surrounding the problem area.
  • If the bin contains a lot of broken grain and foreign material (fines), and/or the grain is infested with insects, consider running the grain through a grain cleaner. This can remove the fines and perhaps a few of the insects.
  • If it's feasible, use the grain as soon as possible. For any grain that developed mold and insect problems during the winter, the problems are only going to get worse during warm weather.

"If you are experiencing grain storage problems this year, try to determine how they could have been prevented," says Wilcke. "Then make plans to upgrade your drying and storage facilities or change management strategies to reduce future problems."

For more information on managing stored grain and on planning grain-handling facilities, check the U of M Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Web site. It's at www.bae.umn.edu/extens/postharvest

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