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Grain farmers looking for alternative storage amid record crop, down prices

Farmers who plan to store grain in machinery sheds, reinforced silos or grain bags need to make sure their management practices of these structures preserve the quality of the grain.

Large grain crops in most of Kentucky, coupled with low prices, have producers looking for storage options this harvest season.

Like most of the U.S. Corn Belt, Kentucky producers in areas west of Hopkinsville and east of Bowling Green are reporting near-record yields in corn and soybeans. In mid-September, the Kentucky office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated the state’s corn crop at 215 million bushels and soybean production at 77.7 million bushels. Both are well above 2011 production.

With prices for both crops much lower than in the past several years, most of these producers are looking for at least short-term storage options. While no county storage data exists, it is likely that grain production will exceed storage capacity in many areas.

Farmers who plan to store grain in machinery sheds, reinforced silos or grain bags need to make sure their management practices of these structures preserve the quality of the grain, said Sam McNeill, extension agricultural engineer with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

"Seeing impressive numbers on a yield monitor is satisfying, but the job isn’t really done until grain has passed grade at the elevator and is sold," McNeill said. "The diligence spent scouting fields during the growing season should transfer over to managing grain during storage."

Clean, undamaged grain is best for long-term storage in conventional bins and when producers must use temporary or alternate storage facilities.

Producers should thoroughly clean alternative storage structures and make sure to fill them last and empty them first. McNeill said they should evaluate these structures for strength, capacity, filling and unloading needs, and aeration requirements.

Most commercial storage buildings have built-in or add-on packages that provide adequate sidewall strength for grain storage. The UK Cooperative Extension Service has plans available for free-standing bulkhead walls up to 6 feet tall that can be built from standard lumber and plywood. These can be placed across the exposed end of grain piles or adjacent to existing building walls to provide adequate strength.

Auger work

Glass-coated steel silos in good structural condition usually have adequate strength but concrete stave or monolithic concrete silos may require additional reinforcement hoops or may only be partially filled. Cover earth floors with plastic or concrete to prevent adding moisture to the grain.

Loading and unloading augers should always be placed in the center of all silos to provide uniform wall loading when moving grain in or out of the structure. The majority of time, producers can insert augers and aeration tubes through the bottom silo doors prior to filling.

It is common to fill flat storage structures by moving a portable auger down the center of the building or with a horizontal auger mounted under the roof. Grain vacuum systems, portable augers and front-end loaders are often used to unload from these buildings.

Proper aeration is essential for successful grain storage and is the key to maintaining uniform temperatures to control moisture and subsequent spoilage.

Farmers should space aeration tubes in flat storage buildings so that equal amounts of grain are ventilated with each tube. A rule of thumb for deep piles is that the tube spacing should not exceed the grain depth, McNeill said. Aeration fans should provide airflow of 250 cubic feet per minute for each 1,000 bushels of grain in the pile.

Producers should aim for 14 percent moisture content in corn that will be held in flat storage, silos or bags through February. Store soybeans at 12 percent moisture content for the same period.

Rodent, bird and insect control is usually more difficult in flat storage buildings and bags because of inherent exposure. Producers should commit to routine pest control practices to minimize grain damage during storage and repair bags as needed when damage occurs, McNeill said.

Storage cost figures vary widely depending on the type of structure and its original condition. For more information on managing stored grains in bins or alternative structures contact the UK Cooperative Extension Service or visit Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering’s grain storage website.

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