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Published November 04, 2013, 10:02 AM

Storing grain safely

The wet fall increases storage concerns for corn and sunflowers.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

It’s a sure sign of a wet fall: Ken Hellevang, grain drying specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, is fielding more questions about storing wet grain, particularly corn.

“The phone calls have really picked up,” he says.

Propane shortages have increased concern about storing wet grain. So has a large number of farmers relatively new to corn, he says.

With propane in short supply, farmers might be tempted to try to dry corn with natural air, but doing so is risky, Hellevang says.

“The ability to naturally air-dry depends on outdoor air temperatures. Unfortunately, with the cold temperatures we’re experiencing and which are normal for November, the drying ability of that air is extremely small,” Hellevang says.

When the average outdoor temperature falls below 40 degrees, farmers should consider cooling corn to temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees, he says.

In short, if grain can’t be kept dry, it should be kept cold.

“Keep it (stored corn) cold over the winter and then plan to dry it with air-drying in the spring (when outdoor temperatures rise),” he says.

Hellevang discourages binning corn with a moisture content of more than 24 percent. With corn that wet, moisture on the kernels can freeze together and make it extremely difficult to remove corn from the bin.

Corn with high moisture content should go into silage bags or other types of storage in which the kernels can be pulled apart mechanically if necessary, he says.

Wet corn also will affect area grain elevators, but the impact should be limited, one elevator manager says.

Low corn prices encourage farmers to store their grain at home instead of selling it off the combine, and relatively plentiful on-farm storage helps them do it, says Paul Coppin, manager of Reynolds (N.D.) United Co-op.

The region’s long wet cycle generally has given grain elevators considerable experience in dealing with wet grain, he says.

Sunflower concerns

Storing sunflowers also could be a problem this year. The crop is popular in the western Dakotas, which were hammered by an early October blizzard, and any sunflower fields there have been flattened.

Though sunflowers have had a reputation of being difficult to store, that isn’t necessarily true, Hellevang says.

But wet, foreign matter in sunflower can lead to storage problems. Harvesting sunflowers in challenging conditions, which will be the case this fall, can lead to more foreign matter in sunflowers, he says.

Sunflower growers should consider running their harvested crop through a cleaner to remove the foreign matter, Hellevang says.

Doing so can reduce the overall moisture content of the stored sunflowers by several percentage points, he says.

An even bigger issue, he says, is that fires can occur when drying sunflowers in high-temperature dryers.

“Clean the dryer frequently” to remove accumulated foreign matter that can be combustible, he says.

Online help

More information on grain storage:

• Minnesota: www.extension.umn. edu/distribution/cropsystems/M1080-FS.pdf.

• North Dakota: www.ag.ndsu.edu /publications. (See Grain Drying-AE701.)

• South Dakota: pubstorage.sdstate. edu/AgBio_Publications/articles/ExEx1014.pdf

• Montana: store.msuextension .org/Products/Grain-Storage-Manage ment__MT199135AG.aspx.

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