Survey: Eyesight, Smell, Hearing Your Tools For Identifying Common Post-Harvest Grain Quality Issues

Once harvest dies down, grain elevator operators turn their attention to preserving grain quality. For most, this includes drying, cooling, storing, and monitoring.

For some insight into post-harvest best grain quality practices, tips, and challenges, Grain Journal in early July contacted eight elevator operators. Below are their comments.

Cory Falke | Operations Manager | Beachner Grain Inc. | Parsons, KS

“Grain quality begins before harvest. You need a plan. Clean bins to eliminate any bugs. We use a residual spray a week before we put grain in the bin. During harvest, we sample everything coming in so we can segregate by quality factors, such as moisture, test weight, and protein.

“Always stay in contact with your merchandising team to ensure you can ship grain to core the bins and allow better airflow for aeration.

“Grain quality takes a team. Stay in touch with grain merchandisers, and let them know if there’s a potential problem, so that they potentially can ship the grain before it becomes a problem.

“Monitoring is key. Read temperatures on a regular basis; visually inspect the headspace for condensation; and inspect by walking around and looking for crusting or smells at the top of the bins. Take note of anything you can see or smell.”

Toby Wilson | Chief Operating Officer | Garden City Cooperative Inc. | Garden City, KS

“For wheat, we check our bin tops every couple of weeks and probe for bugs to stay on top of any potential issues. In bins equipped with aeration, we run the fans in the evening to get the harvest heat out and limit bug activity.

“In bins without aeration, we turn and blend any wheat that’s between mid-90 to 110 degrees F. We also turn and blend a month and a half to two months after harvest to get the harvest heat out of non-aeration bins, taking samples every 2,000 bushels checking moisture and test weight. Any wheat we plan to store long term, we apply Diacon Plus insecticide, which is a growth inhibitor.

“For milo and corn, we store it in aeration bins as often as possible. We cool it and check the bin tops regularly for crusting and condensation. We turn and blend any milo bins with hot spots sampling every 2,000 bushels to monitor moisture and test weight.

“Hot spots indicate that air isn’t moving through the grain mass. We tend to blend corn only if necessary, trying to avoid fines that can result from blending. We tell our employees, ‘You can smell a grain quality issue starting, and if your equipment sounds different while running, that is an indicator of a possible problem.”

Eric Clements | Operations Manager | Topflight Grain Company | Monticello, IL

“We always make sure we’re storing the proper moisture in the bin. As soon as possible, we core the bins to remove fines in the center of the tank.

“Then, we cool the grain as the weather turns colder. We look for a 10-15-degree F difference from the previous grain cycle. The ideal temperature range to store grain is 35-40 degrees F. When we get to that temperature range, we cover the fan inlets to seal in the cool air and keep the bottom of the bins from warming prematurely. We check bin temperatures weekly, looking for small temperature increases that may indicate the presence of mold or insects.

“The best book I’ve seen on this subject is Managing Stored Grain: To Preserve Quality and Value by Carl Reed. This book is written in layman’s language and is valuable but not inexpensive ($170 from Amazon).”

Max Mobley | Director of Regional Operations | Thresher Artisan Wheat | Minneapolis, MN

“Start getting your grain cooled at night. Plan ahead by looking at the weather forecast for temperature and humidity. This will keep bugs down and maintain grain quality. Grain air coolers are new and do a good job cooling grain. Do things before harvest to plan airflow after harvest.

“Also, reconcile your bin boards – whether they’re electronic, whiteboards, or paper – with operators to confirm the inventory in each bin. This will help you to maximize blending and revenue later. Also, identifying potential issues will help you know which bins to move first.

“Finally, make sure your staff is engaged and doing the things they need to do and when they need to do them. After harvest, review what could have been done better. Keep good notes, and try to make changes or do things differently before harvest rather than during harvest. Housekeeping items should be done before harvest or done in a timely fashion when harvest begins. Always have a post-harvest meeting with your team to reward them and see how things can be improved.”

Chris Reed | Vice President of Trade | The Andersons Inc. | Overland Park, KS

“It’s important to understand c bin-by-bin qualities and have best practices in place specific to daily and weekly inventory checks. Use that data to manage issues when they arise. Inventory checks include physical inventory measurement, temperature, moisture, and foreign material.

“Have an educated team that understands quality management, and have working space available if an issue arises, so you can move grain to deal with the problem.

“Finally, we have effective communication across the entire group, identifying and setting expectations with inventories and holding people accountable to expectations. Communication consists of daily and weekly reporting to the entire team on what we have in each facility and its general status. Close communication with the merchandising team also is important to understanding market conditions and values that will drive shipment schedules. Knowing when grain is able to be moved allows you to make plans.”

Lance Lamers | Director Grain Operations | Perdue Agribusiness | Salisbury, MD

“Coring the center of the bin is the key to good aeration. We hang bug traps in the top of the bin, especially with wheat, to get ahead of a possible infestation. Regarding housekeeping, we make sure aeration tunnels and troughs are cleaned out prior to filling the bin.

“Every other year, we do static pressure testing on our fans when the bins are empty and when they’re full to ensure they’re wired correctly, working properly, and delivering the proper volume of air. This ensures we have no significant issues, and we follow industry specifications for the bin size.

“Twice a month, we do visual inspections of the top of the tank, using eyes, ears, and nose to identify heating, condensation/rain on the top, and mold odor. We turn on the fans for updraft, and we usually can sense if problems are present or in the beginning phases.

“For ground piles and larger tanks – 500,000 bushels and larger – we do carbon dioxide monitoring on a monthly basis, to determine if bugs are present, or if mold is developing. We also do infrared scans using an app on our phones to monitor temperatures. We do this on a monthly basis 60-90 days after piles are placed.

“Finally, we do pre-fill application and some inbound spraying of growth inhibitor insecticide. It limits growth of insects and helps control bugs in wheat and occasionally corn. This inbound spraying also helps us limit our use of mass fumigation products, which are restricted in the East.”

Brent Reichmuth | Vice President of Operations-Area 1 | Central Valley Ag | Wisner, NE

“Good grain quality really starts before harvest. Make sure your fans, door seals, foundation, and in-bin sensors for temperature, moisture, and carbon dioxide are in good shape and functioning properly. Also, inspect for roof leaks and make sure your aeration system is working well.

“After harvest, getting bins cored to remove fines for good air movement is important. We run aeration fans when the ambient temperature is within 15 degrees F of the grain temperature to cool it in increments. For long-term storage, we try to get the grain below 50 degrees F as soon as possible. Having a baseline temperature is important down the road.

“We’re believers in carbon dioxide (CO2)monitoring, and we log carbon dioxide levels twice a month through fall and winter. Rising carbon dioxide levels can indicate bugs or moisture/leakage. We start monitoring after harvest and continue until the grain is gone.”

Nick Friant | Regulatory Affairs Lead for Grains | Cargill Inc. | Wayzata, MN

“When I think about grain quality tips, I always go back to Iowa State professor Charlie Hurburgh and his grain quality tenets, which I first saw in the July/August 2007 issue of Grain Journal. He said, ‘We have to remember grain quality never gets better. Everything we do is to maintain that quality as best we can.’

“You have to have a good monitoring program. What are you monitoring? What quality factors – grain temperature, moisture content, foreign materials? How often are you monitoring, and what are your red flags? How are you communicating concerns to others in your facility? To your leadership? Others on your team?

“What’s your overall plan for storage? Are you planning to store long term? Short term? If you’re planning to store grain until next summer, what you do will be different than if you’re going to sell to a local feedlot in a couple weeks."

- From the July/August 2021 GRAIN JOURNAL