Mold and decay can be some of the most troublesome challenges agriculture processing professionals face when attempting to store grains, meals, feed ingredients, and other agricultural commodities safely. Facilities with large silos or grain bins impacted by mold and decay will often have to dump their out-of-condition product, dragging down productivity and profitability.
Luckily, there are many reliable, high-quality grain bin and storage cleaning solutions that can help operators free hung-up material from inside their storage vessels, preventing the mold, mildew, and rot that tends to develop in dead, unmoving product. Careful planning and investment in bulk material processing tools can avert production shutdowns or grain, meal, and flour loss at your facility.
Why Does Decay Often Arise in Grain Storage?
There are varying levels of grain decay that ultimately lead to total product spoilage in bulk agriculture processing operations. After grains are harvested, processed, and stored away, chemical and physical changes continue to occur. Many factors can lead to decaying grains in bins and silos, with the most common culprits being high temperature and moisture levels.
Frequently, facilities like feed mills, soybean processors, or grain elevators find themselves moving product through an operation so quickly that entire silos are turned over in a matter of days, minimizing the opportunity for mold growth. Situations that can get facilities into trouble include production delays, weekends and holidays, long-term product storage, out-of-service silos, or material hung up inside the bin, creating opportunities for rot to take hold.
When grain damage occurs, it can result in costly production delays and discarded product. In worst-case scenarios, the heat generated by the decomposition process can cause the grain to smolder or catch on fire, resulting in costly property damage or injury to workers. Processors, millers, farmers, and elevator operators must be alert for the various signs indications that grain spoilage is occurring, such as:
- Musty smells
- Visible mold growth
- Visible moisture migration
- Storage bin hotspots
- Visible fungal growth or yeasty smells
- Ice or frost accumulation
- Excess moisture around vents or on roof surfaces
- Insect infestation (beetles, weevils, moths, etc.)
- Crusting or bridging of grain
- Wet, slimy grains
There are many scenarios where moisture can accumulate, producing mold and other destructive forms of grain decay. Facilities handling grain or feed ingredients need robust and reliable grain handling solutions to resolve these issues without losing product, time, and money.
Depending on the facility, grain may be informally examined by workers throughout their shift, or the operator may have a defined grain storage maintenance plan, with monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure their product remains fresh and unspoiled.
Tips to Prevent Mold and Decay in Grain Storage
Mold and decay don’t just damage stored agricultural products; they can damage an operation’s financial health as well. As agricultural products go out of condition and begin to cake up inside a silo, bridging, ratholing, and plugging might keep material from freely flowing. Products can be dislodged using state-of-the-art cleanout tools and advanced technology.
Soybean meals, dried distillers grains (DDGs), and wheat mids are especially prone to caking when exposed to heat and moisture, but over time, even bins that hold whole grains can accumulate dense layers of powdery chaff and fines.
If the adverse impacts of mold or pest activity become too extensive, they can require entire bulk grain loads to be thrown away. Fungi can contaminate cereal grains with mycotoxins, which are poisonous compounds harmful to human and animal health, often resulting in expensive product recalls. The economic impact of mycotoxins on the U.S. agricultural industry is estimated to be $5 billion annually.
Whether you help run a food processing plant, feed mill, or export elevator, it’s important to consult with an experienced bulk handling system specialist. These professionals can help you identify solutions to whatever problems your facility might be facing. Here are a few things to keep in mind when attempting to mitigate the adverse effects of flow issues, decay, and other defects when storing grain:
1. Temperature Control
Agricultural products like grain tend to absorb and retain heat, so agriculture processing professionals must carefully monitor and maintain temperatures inside grain storage vessels. Facilities like pet food processing plants, terminal elevators, and oilseed crushers often create products for worldwide distribution. Depending on where a facility is located, the temperature factor becomes an issue during the summer months when pest infestations are far more common.
According to Ken Hellevang, an agricultural engineer at the North Dakota State University Extension Program, the optimal temperature for insect activity in grain silos is between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Operators must manage the temperature inside their silos by ensuring bin vents are unobstructed and operating correctly with adequate airflow.
2. Moisture Content & Aeration
Wet environments inside a storage vessel can initiate or accelerate mold, fungi, and insect egg or larvae growth. Different grains and agricultural products have individual moisture level recommendations, and troubleshooting decay issues demands a thorough understanding of these values.
Maintaining the proper moisture content is critical for preventing rot and preserving safe, marketable products. Depending on the type of facility you are operating, some measures that can help manage moisture include:
- Implementing a well-designed industrial fan aeration system
- Maintaining intake and exhaust vents and ducts
- Requiring regular monitoring and reporting of grain moisture levels
- Monitoring weather conditions and the relative humidity at your facility and adjusting your aeration strategy accordingly
- “Turning“ material, which means moving product from one bin to another to help break up hotspots and evenly distribute heat and moisture
Employees must commit to continued monitoring and maintenance, noting the conditions in which problems occur, so they can recognize them in the future and take corrective action.
3. Silo Cleaning Equipment & Services
Once out-of-condition grain or meal gets stuck inside a bin, the problem can worsen rapidly, grinding production to a standstill. At this point, some facilities may attempt to clear the blockage themselves, but unless they are equipped with the proper tools and training, this typically ends in frustration. At worst, it can result in a tragic accident, which is why seeking out professional silo
cleaning equipment or an experienced silo cleaning service provider is often the best option.
Silo cleanout equipment is lowered into the silo from the outside, eliminating hazardous confined space entry or other unsafe cleanout activities. The BinWhip’s spark-proof flails or chains can dislodge stubborn material from bin walls, recover valuable product, restore lost capacity, and halt the spread of mold and decay.
For a challenging product like bin-burnt meals or DDGs, a silo cleaning service crew might use advanced equipment to fracture the material apart with a powerful non-flammable release of carbon dioxide gas at up to 34,000 psi.
Despite agriculture professionals’ best efforts, having grain stuck in silos is a common and occasionally unavoidable experience in the bulk storage and processing industry. Silo cleaning technology and services exist to reduce waste, protect worker safety, and make facilities more profitable by running at maximum efficiency. Reach out to a reputable, professional silo cleaning service provider to assess the state of your grain storage system and see if they can assist in finding a solution to your storage problems.
Great Grain Storage Solutions
Bulk agricultural commodity handlers know that mold and decay are a constant threat. Fortunately, by focusing on temperature and moisture level control and quickly clearing silos of bridges and blockages, these industries can continue to provide the world with nutritious agricultural products to keep people and animals alike healthy and strong.
Contact Pneumat Systems now to learn more about the advanced bulk flow technology and services helping our industry succeed in this vital task.