Across the globe, the supply of grains like soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, barley, and oats has risen steadily, driven by an ever-increasing demand for grain-based animal and human food, cooking oils, and alternative fuels. Unfortunately, recent weather events and geopolitical forces have led to a shrinking grain supply and skyrocketing prices. In fact, the FDA estimates that grain supplies may not return to comfortable levels until late 2022 or beyond.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), corn and soybean production increased by 4 and 16 percent respectively between 2019 and 2020, with nearly 20 billion bushels of both crops harvested. However, corn, soybean, and other grain stocks are dwindling despite the increased agricultural production in America.

This makes it all the more critical that those involved in farming, handling, transporting, and processing these valuable commodities take action to protect crop yields from becoming spoiled and unusable. Whole grains and grain co-products such as protein meals, wheat midds, and DDGs (dried distiller’s grains) are all susceptible to the damaging effects of heat, moisture, mold, and insect activity. Safe grain storage solutions for feed mills, food processors, and other facilities have become integral to preventing grain storage problems and maintaining profitability throughout the agricultural sector.

5 Common Grain Storage Issues

Agriculture professionals face a constant uphill battle when it comes to avoiding pest infestations and managing temperature and moisture levels to prevent grain decay. They understand the importance of protecting these valuable commodities, and turn to rapid, reliable solutions to resolve common grain storage problems.

Let’s explore some of the issues growers, handlers, transporters, and processors face when it comes to long-term grain storage, along with methods that agriculture professionals are using to address these challenges.

1. Space Constraints

With ever-increasing crop yields, growers struggle to find adequate storage space to accommodate the additional product from harvest. Often, grains from last year’s yield remain in storage even after new bushels begin coming in, so the agriculture industry is starting to get creative when it comes to grain storage solutions.

The easiest way to avoid a shortage of space for grain storage is to build more bins. However, smaller farms and processing facilities don’t always have the budget to afford this option. Instead, many opt to repurpose existing barns and structures or store excess product outside in piles. However, piling grains in alternative outdoor storage areas comes with its own set of issues, such as quicker spoilage and troublesome pests. To mitigate these problems, facilities may utilize temporary grain storage solutions like a grain bagging system or outdoor storage tent. Mechanical ventilation systems help ensure proper aeration of the grain piles to minimize the potential for spoilage before the product reaches its final storage or processing destination.

If you work at a grain elevator, cooperative, feed mill/integrator, pet food processor, food manufacturer, or other facility that handles dry bulk agricultural material, you’re likely aware of another issue that limits storage capacity – silo buildup. As material hangs up and compacts against the walls of a storage silo, its capacity diminishes over time. Eventually, you may be faced with a silo that has been reduced to a narrow rathole of flowing product surrounded by dead, stuck product. It may even bridge over or clog, grinding production to a halt.

Many facilities don’t recognize how much more efficiently they could be operating if their bins were restored to full operating capacity. That’s where powerful silo cleaning tools can be used to dislodge hung-up material without hazardous bin entry, recovering valuable product and restoring storage capacity. Many facilities opt to purchase these practical tools, equipping their personnel to keep bins flowing at full capacity, while others hire a silo cleaning service crew to professionally service their silos on an as-needed basis.

2. Temperature Considerations

Overly high temperatures in grain storage systems can impact the safe storage of grains and grain co-products by leading to high moisture levels resulting in fungal growth, pest infestation, spoilage, caking, and other forms of product damage.

Air vents, power roof exhausters, and other aeration systems are the main means by which most grain handling facilities manage temperatures inside their storage vessels. For many years, the widely-accepted rule of thumb was to try to keep the temperature of stored grain to within 10 to 15 degrees of the outside temperature. Today, we understand that optimal storage temperatures are dependent on many factors, including the time of year and how long you plan to keep the grain in storage. Common temperature targets include 40°F or 50°F, the temperature at which insect activity becomes virtually nonexistent.

Ag products in storage should be checked regularly, with extra attention given when ambient temperatures fluctuate. That’s when moisture migration is most likely to occur, indications of which include frost or moisture accumulation on the underside of bin roof panels or crusted, wet, or foul-smelling grain.

Many facilities choose to install temperature monitoring cables inside their storage vessels or utilize portable grain monitoring equipment as an affordable alternative. Around-the-clock remote grain temperature monitoring systems are a convenient and effective way to protect valuable stored ag commodities.

3. Moisture Content Concerns

Deeply intertwined with temperature management, moisture content is a critical factor when it comes to ensuring the long-term stability of harvested grains and grain co-products. Once a growing crop reaches maturity, a process begins in which the plant’s moisture content falls and the grains begin to dry out. However, weather conditions and market forces occasionally compel a farmer to begin harvesting in wetter-than-ideal conditions. Grain milling or processing operations must also adapt to unexpected production issues or environmental conditions, which can result in the creation of agricultural products with an undesirably high moisture content.

Safely storing these high-moisture agriculture products can pose a serious challenge, as their susceptibility to fungal growth and spoilage is greatly increased. Transporting this product may also pose logistical challenges if DDGs, meals, or other products are loaded into a truck or railcar hot and wet. High-moisture products are likely to cake up inside the car, and without specialized unloading equipment, unloading them at their destination can be extremely difficult and unsafe.

A variety of natural and artificial drying methods are often employed to help bring moisture levels under control and negate the negative impacts of damp grains and grain co-products. The Division of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas recommends the following safe moisture content ranges for the short-term storage (30 to 60 days) of some common grains depending on the ambient temperature:

  • Corn: 12–15%
  • Soybeans: 11–14%
  • Wheat: 11–14%

For long-term storage (one year or more) the recommended values are:

  • Corn: 12%
  • Soybeans: 11%
  • Wheat: 12%

There are many factors that impact these numbers, and operators must adjust and adapt to the unique qualities and storage conditions for the product they are working with.

4. Insect Infestations

Improper temperature and moisture levels will propel the lifecycle of several harmful insects and pests forward. Pest infestations can be devastating for farmers and grain handling facilities, and once an infestation has taken hold the damage can be irreversible. Common stored-grain insects that can contaminate stored grain and agricultural products include:

  • Grain weevils
  • Grain borers
  • Grain and flour moths
  • Grain and flour mites
  • Grain and flour beetles
  • Dermestid, spider, and other beetles
  • Mealworms
  • Booklice or psocids
  • Silverfish
  • Cockroaches

Properly monitoring and maintaining temperature and humidity levels within storage containers will help reduce the chance of a pest infestation. Ongoing temperature monitoring and product inspections are a practical way to keep an eye out for insect infestation in your grain bin and detect and head off any issues that may arise.

Grain Moisture Content

5. Molds and Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals that are produced by certain types of molds. These toxins can have harmful health impacts on humans and animals if consumed. Unfortunately, the fungal microorganisms that produce these hazardous substances readily colonize agricultural crops. Some of the major mycotoxin groups include:

Like the insects that flourish in improperly-stored grain, fungal infestation and the resulting mycotoxins can also contaminate product yields with devastating results. That’s why managing temperature and moisture levels and maintaining adequate aeration are so critical during long-term grain storage.

Keep Bins and Silos Clean With Help From the Pros

When hot spots, spoilage, or infestations take root inside a bin or silo, they can spread throughout the vessel and contaminate any future product that is added. Ensuring your bins and silos are thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis will help mitigate the issues discussed in this article and ensure quality product and profitable operations.

Whether you acquire specialized bin cleaning tools or hire TeamPneumat to deliver professional grain storage cleaning services, you’ll gain new visibility into the conditions that exist inside your bins and silos. Once the old, non-moving product has been fully cleared away, it creates an excellent opportunity to inspect and evaluate existing temperature and moisture monitoring tools, ventilation and aeration systems, and the condition of the storage vessel itself. At this point, you can assess any weak points in your storage system and make the appropriate adjustments to fix any outstanding issues before you begin filling the vessel up again with a new product.

If you have concerns about grain storage issues affecting your operations, seek help from the industry’s most experienced professionals. Contact Pneumat Systems today and find out how your facility can benefit from over 40 years of experience delivering innovative bulk flow solutions to ag industry professionals like you.