By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- Grain-quality issues that plagued the 2019 growing season continue to haunt farmers in 2020. The evidence can been seen in recent social media posts by farmers who are finding out-of-condition corn in their bins as they begin to move the grain.
In many locations across the Corn Belt, the 2019 crop is proving difficult to store because of high levels of fines found in bins from damaged kernels. Experts warn farmers to monitor stored grain closely, to be careful unloading bins and, as temperatures rise, to consider removing the grain.
STORING IS A CHALLENGE
Storing the 2019 corn crop is proving to be a significant challenge, according to Shane Stutzman, a grain bin dealer for Hynek Construction located in Friend, Nebraska. Much like the crop in 2009, which was another year with wet crops and storage issues, the 2019 crop is also proving difficult to store.
Those photos of severely out-of-condition corn in bins that have been cropping up on social media lately are not going away. In fact, it may be just the beginning as temperatures begin to increase, Stutzman said.
Storing grain is always affected by moisture and temperature. The wetter and warmer the grain, the shorter the shelf life is going to be, he said.
Stutzman said that, in many instances, corn is handled several times from the combine to the grain cart to the truck and maybe into a dryer bin and, finally, into a storage bin. With wetter grain, all of this handling damages the softer kernels, which leads to higher levels of fines.
"The particles in the grain mass make it nearly impossible for air to percolate through the openings in-between kernels, so the grain can't be cooled and the grain will start to deteriorate almost immediately," Stutzman told DTN.
Everyone has a different definition of cool, so while some producers may believe they cooled their grain enough, there could be instances where grain was not fully dried down in storage.
Stutzman said farmers sometimes don't have drying equipment that is up to par with their harvesting equipment. So, often it's tempting to turn up the heat and try to dry more grain in the bin than they should, he said.
MUCH WET CORN
Matt Boucher, a farmer from DeWitt, Illinois, said his corn crop came out of the field extremely damp last fall. He started harvesting and had 80 acres of corn at 18%-20% moisture. However, after that one field, corn harvested on the rest of his acres had moisture closer to 28%-30%.
Some neighboring farmers in his central-Illinois area waited before harvesting corn, but moisture levels never did fall much. Moisture levels that high can lead to damaged kernels no matter how gently the crop was handled, he said.
"We went through twice as much propane as we normally do to dry corn, but we had to dry it down," Boucher said.
Boucher said that while he did get corn dried down to 15% moisture, it isn't the moisture that he sees as the issue. What's causing problems in his stored grain is the amount of fines, he said.
One basic practice with stored grain is to core it (remove a few loads), which helps to pull out the fines. Boucher said he tried to do that with his bins, but by the time he cored out his last bin, the grain was already starting to get warm.
Boucher has begun to move corn out of some of his bins. As he emptied one bin recently, he found the fines were already beginning to get warm in a small area in the middle of the bin, he said.
Normally, Boucher holds corn in his bins until July, but he said he believes he won't be able to do that this year. Once the temperatures rises, the problems in grain bins are only going to get much worse, he said.
DAMAGED GRAIN DANGEROUS
Once grain is out of condition, there is no way to repair the damage that has already been done. At this point, it can be very dangerous to enter a bin, according to Cheryl Skjolaas, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension senior outreach specialist.
The dangers in a bin of out-of-condition grain can be both seen and unseen, she noted.
The apparent danger would be things like bridged-up grain, which could engulf and kill those who enter the bin. The unseen dangers could be the micro-toxins and dust in the bin from the spoiled grain.
Skjolaas said farmers will need to use safety equipment to remove out-of-condition grain from the bin. This could include such items as harnesses, masks and lock-out equipment to ensure no one is in the bin while removal is occurring.
"I think we all need to take a large pause and think through this situation," Skjolaas said. "In many cases, the last thing you want to do is be in the bin."
Skjolaas said there are different ways to safely remove damaged grain, such as using grain vacs or consulting with grain bin manufacturers to see if part of the bin can be taken apart.
Matt Undlin is a farmer from Lansford, North Dakota who stores corn. He said he has been diligent in making sure his corn that is going into storage is in good condition. He may have to store some grain until the following fall, so needs to ensure it is in good condition, he said.
Undlin is also the fire chief for the Lansford Volunteer Fire Department. The town has 250 people, including 32 firefighters. They have responded to several bin and dryer fires since last fall in their region of north-central North Dakota, he said.
"We ask that folks be safe," Undlin said. "We train for extrication, but education is the way we will solve the problem."
BIN MANAGEMENT BASICS
There are many practices that are necessary to keep grain in good shape. A tip sheet on these practices can be found at: https://extension.umn.edu/…
Stutzman, the Nebraska bin dealer, also has a few recommendations to keep grain in good quality.
First, use a grain cleaner. It might be a chore to integrate a cleaner into a drying system, but it can help remove fines, he said.
Another piece of equipment Stutzman recommended using is a grain spreader. Some farmers might consider these dirty words, but grain spreaders do help spread out fine across the bin, he said.
Stutzman said there are also several systems available that automate bin fans and send alerts if there are problems. These systems will not fix any issues if there are already high levels of fines, but they will allow farmers to keep a closer eye on what is going on in their bins, he said.
Russ Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN
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