A grain producer’s hard work doesn’t end at harvest.
“A tremendous amount of work goes into getting that crop to the point where you can actually put it in storage,” said Brent Elliott, infestation control and sanitation officer at the Canadian Grain Commission.
“And once they’ve put it in storage, the common thought is, ‘OK, the harvest work’s done, it’s in storage, so I don’t have to worry about it too much.’
“Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. All your investment is now sitting in a bin, and you really don’t want to ignore it.”
Incorrectly storing grain can result in significant levels of spoilage, whether from disease or insect damage — and that costs producers both time and money, said Elliott.
“When a producer takes his grain into the elevator, they always probe the grain and they always check to see the quality that’s there and to see if there are any insects there. If there’s a single live insect present, they’ll reject the entire load of grain,” he said.
“That means you’ve loaded it into the truck, taken it to the elevator, and now you’re headed back home again. You’ve wasted an awful lot of time and effort and money in doing that.”
If there’s sufficient damage, that grain could be downgraded to feed or sample quality — a particular concern in canola, which can be “quite volatile” in storage, said Angela Brackenreed, agronomy specialist at the Canola Council of Canada.
“You have pretty severe quality risks if it’s not stored properly. We can see heating happen, and if it’s to a severe degree, you can have trouble marketing that canola, and it can drastically affect the value of that crop,” said Brackenreed.
“Losing quality and potentially losing the ability to market a No. 1 canola is probably all the risk that producers need to hear. That’s very significant.”
Temperature and moisture
Despite that, producers don’t always feel they have the time or resources to make sure that their grain is stored properly during harvest, she said.
“It’s so vitally important, but it sometimes isn’t top of mind when there’s all these very important things that need to happen,” said Brackenreed. “It can be difficult to put the resources into proper conditioning of what’s been harvested. But it really is vital. The first 24 to 48 hours are quite important for canola conditioning and can really save you a pile of headaches as you go into the winter.”
“Most people just don’t consider what could happen in a bin.”
Many producers assume that, as the temperature drops outside the bin, the temperature inside the bin will drop as well, he said. And it does — to an extent.
“For the grain that’s up against the side of that bin, that’s true,” said Elliott. “But the core of that bin can still be 20 or 22 C, and that’s the right condition for diseases to occur and for insects to survive and thrive.”
Grain is “a really good insulator,” so producers need to “break up any moisture and heat that might be in the bin,” said Elliott.
And the best way to do that is through aeration.
“The best thing that they can do from a disease or insect standpoint is to get that grain to a relatively cool, relatively dry state,” he said.
But both temperature and moisture have to be managed — “not one or the other,” said Joy Agnew, project manager at PAMI.
“In a year like this, the crop is coming off dry, which is good,” she said. “But even if it’s dry, it still has to be cooled to get in that minimal risk zone.
“For the most part, temperature and moisture can be controlled by blowing air through the grain. That’s a bonus — you can deal with both of them with one simple technology.”
Each type of grain has its own target moisture content, but the target temperature for all grains is 15 C or lower. Even more importantly, producers should strive to make conditions in the bin as uniform as possible, said Brackenreed.
“High moisture, high temperature is problematic, but sometimes what’s really creating the problem is difference in conditions in the bin — gradients of moisture and temperature that can start convection currents happening. Pockets of heating and spoiling can be as small as the end of your pinky finger and then grow until all of a sudden it could be half a bin that’s spoiling. Evening out the conditions can really help to limit that volatility.”
Once properly conditioned, grain needs to be monitored regularly.
“I think producers do go look — I just think that perhaps they’re not looking enough,” said Elliott.
“Think of it from a field perspective. I don’t go look at my crop of wheat one time in the summer. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s part of the work. It’s about protecting your investment.”
Temperature probes — whether installed or used manually — help make sure there are no ‘hot spots,’ which can provide a breeding ground for insects or disease.
“It can be fairly easy to do with the automation and computerization we have now,” said Elliott. “They have temperature probes that automatically relay the information to the computer. It’s not always a case of going out on a really cold January day to probe for the temperature.”
But high-tech gear isn’t a must-have, added Brackenreed.
“Not every producer has that and you don’t necessarily need to as long as you’re committed to checking bins, turning bins, and ensuring that you’re not seeing spikes in temperature,” she said.
Finding time during harvest season is tough, but complacency is costly, said Brackenreed.
“Nobody wants to be dealing with heating,” she said. “If you just think about how much effort and money and time and resources go into producing this crop, seeing degradation in quality and potentially losing a whole crop is devastating.”