Grain storage takes on greater importance this harvest, according to Iowa State ag engineering professor

AMES, Iowa – Iowa farmers who don’t emphasize good grain storage practices this fall will pay for it in the spring, when they find the corn they harvested contaminated with unusual amounts of mold, said an Iowa State University grain storage expert.

Uneven quality and maturity in this year’s corn harvest means grain storage management will take on even greater importance than in previous years, said Charles Hurburgh, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State.

“Farmers need to be prepared to manage wide variability in grain properties this fall,” Hurburgh said. “You can’t cut corners on good grain management practices or it’ll come back to bite you.”

The cold and wet spring led to a late start for planting for many Iowa farmers, Hurburgh said. Combine that with the heat wave that withered much of the state late in the growing season, and you’ll end up with a crop characterized by inconsistency, he said.

Sharp differences in maturity, weight and moisture content create the potential for spoilage once the grain is stored in a bin, so farmers should make sure to get their corn cooled and dried as soon as possible after harvest, Hurburgh said.

“You have to monitor the moisture closely because it may be wetter than you think,” Hurburgh said. “And if the temperature of the stored grain starts going up, it means you may have a spoilage problem.”

Hurburgh predicted that more farmers than in previous years will notice spoilage among this year’s crop next spring as outside temperatures begin to rise.

As mold spreads through a grain bin, the value of the corn drops. Hurburgh said discounts commonly take effect if more than 5 percent of the corn shows mold. If the mold spreads to more than 20 percent of the kernels, farmers stand to lose dollars on the bushel, he said.

But that’s not the only reason for farmers to pay special attention to storage practices this fall. Many producers feed the corn they grow to livestock, and moldy grain makes for poor feed, Hurburgh said.

He recommended that farmers interested in grain storage guidelines look at the Sept. 23 edition of the ISU Extension and Outreach Integrated Crop Management Newsletter.

“This was a difficult year to predict what the growing season would be like,” he said.  “We had very unpredictable conditions, which is why you have to follow the rules and pay attention as far as grain storage is concerned.”