Midwest Grains: Alternative Options to On-Farm Storage

    Drone view of harvested corn storage bag containers. ©Debra L Ferguson

    The excitement of a large crop may be hampered slightly by thoughts of where all that grain will go. If you are running the numbers and realizing your storage will be full before the end of harvest, you might start looking around the farm for new places to store grain. Here are some options and considerations before filling up the farm shop with grain.

    The most important factor in alternative storage is keeping grain dry and cool. That means it must be dry and cool going into the storage facility. Aeration is not an option in most alternative storage locations.

    Grain pushing against walls of buildings not designed for grain storage will create damage, according to NDSU agricultural engineer and grain storage expert Ken Hellevang. Walls must be properly anchored. Pole barns will likely need a grain wall built. The best course of action to prevent damage is to hire a structural engineer to ensure proper support is in place.

    If you have previously used a barn for storage, he recommends looking over the building for signs of misalignment. These could signal damage and indicate areas where the structure may fail if loaded again with grain.

    Poly bags are a sound option and used frequently for the storage of agricultural products. These bags are thicker than a standard silage bag with a minimum thickness of 9 mils with 9.3 mils being even better.  Again, because drying and aeration are not options once in the bags, grain should be cool and dry going in. To store in bags, Hellevang recommends the following:

    • Select an elevated, well-drained site for the storage bags. Run the bags north and south so solar heating is similar on both sides. Sunshine on just one side heats that side, which can lead to moisture accumulation in the grain and spoilage on the cool side.
    • Monitor the bags for damage [at least weekly]. Wildlife can puncture the bags, allowing moisture in, which can lead to spoilage and the grain smell being released, which attracts more wildlife.
    • Monitor the grain temperature at several places in the bags.
    • Never enter a grain bag because it is a suffocation hazard. If unloading the bag with a pneumatic grain conveyor, the suction can “shrink wrap” a person.

    Grain piles pose a lot of potential for loss, especially in our wet climate. The ability to use a cover will reduce loss, which can be up to 2ft deep into the pile with a couple of 1” rain events. This loss can easily result in $30,000-$40,000 worth of grain with today’s current prices. I reached out to a farmer who has used these bags for several years.

    The convenience of loading and unloading grain bags in the field and the low cost (6-7 cents/bu) has made this an appealing option for their farm. Grain bags are an alternative storage method that may be more economical than constructing permanent bins. Equipment required includes a bagger and unloader. Renting this equipment may be an option.

    When using an alternative storage, you should notify your insurance company to be sure this storage is on your policy against losses due to environmental and wildlife damage. You should also plan to move grain out of these storage situations before weather warms in the spring to prevent condensation and moisture buildup. Continually check moisture and pest infestations.

    Corn should be below 15% and soybeans should be under 13% moisture before going into alternative storages. Under current conditions, after going through the grain dryer or coming straight out of the field, grain will be 60℉ or greater.  Below is a chart that shows how many days grain can be stored at different temperature and moisture levels.

    Alternative storage options are a great way to improve harvest efficiency and capture potentially higher prices after harvest. Thoroughly investigate each storage option before using to ensure it fits into your operation, offers an economical advantage above selling it directly out of the field and will preserve the grain quality for the intended storage time.




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