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Tips on Using Alternative Grain Storage
Kentucky Ag Connection - 10/12/2017

High corn and soybean yields, a large carryover from 2016 and transportation challenges have combined to put pressure on grain markets this fall. Many farmers are looking at every available storage option. Some have added grain bins to their existing system in recent years, while others are looking at alternative storage, such as equipment storage buildings, covered outdoor piles, grain bags or other structures.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's September crop report predicts a U.S. corn crop of 14.2 billion bushels and record soybean production at 4.4 billion bushels. Projections for Kentucky are 215 million bushels for corn and a record 98.3 million bushels for soybeans, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service.

Farmers who plan to store grain in alternative structures this fall should remember some key factors to minimize grain spoilage.

"A producer's job really isn't done until grain has passed grade at the elevator and is sold," said Sam McNeill, extension agricultural engineer in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. "The diligence spent scouting fields during the growing season should transfer over to managing stored grain."

Properly dried and cooled grain that is protected from pests, aerated and regularly inspected will store well with little chance of excess spoilage, and subsequent price dock, when delivered for sale. Clean, undamaged grain is best for temporary storage when farmers use less-than-ideal facilities. Producers should thoroughly clean alternative storage structures before putting grain in them, fill them last and empty them first.

Grain that is not cleaned to remove broken kernels and trash should be stored at lower moisture levels to minimize spoilage. Producers should aim for 14 percent moisture content for corn and 12 percent for soybeans that will be stored through February.

Producers should evaluate alternative structures for wall strength, capacity, filling and unloading needs and aeration requirements, McNeill said. Most commercial storage buildings have built-in or add-on packages for providing adequate sidewall strength for grain storage. The UK Cooperative Extension Service has plans available for freestanding bulkhead walls up to 6 feet high built from standard lumber and plywood. These can be placed across the open end of a building or adjacent to existing walls to provide adequate strength.

By installing commercially available metal walls with perforated sections for aeration, producers can build covered outdoor piles. McNeill recommends installing a well-packed surface with fine gravel and covering it with heavy plastic to provide a moisture barrier and facilitate unloading. Producers should have aeration tubes in place prior to filling and continue to install them as the pile grows. Flat storage buildings and outdoor piles can be filled by moving a portable auger down the center of the structure. Vacuum systems, portable augers or front-end loaders are most often used to unload grain from these structures.

Proper aeration is essential for successful grain storage and is the key to maintaining uniform temperatures, which control moisture accumulation and subsequent spoilage of the grain. Producers should run aeration fans at least once a month in flat storage buildings and continuously in covered piles to hold down the cover.

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

Rodent, bird and insect control is usually more difficult in flat storage buildings, piles and bags because of inherent exposure. Producers should commit to routine monitoring and use approved pest control practices to minimize grain spoilage during storage. This includes quickly repairing plastic covers and bags when damage occurs, McNeill said.

Storage cost figures vary widely depending on the type of structure, its original condition and holding capacity. Farmers can use a spreadsheet available on the UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering website, https://www.uky.edu/bae/grain-storage-systems/, to estimate the amount of grain these types of structures can hold. They can enter the dimensions of the structure, pile or bag to quickly calculate storage capacity in bushels. County offices of the UK Cooperative Extension Service have more information on managing stored grain in bins or alternative structures.

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