With harvest already underway in many parts of Australia and bumper crop predictions forecast, many growers are looking ahead and considering on-farm storage.
Storing harvested grain gives you greater control over your management of harvest, which means you get to decide exactly who to sell to and when. After all the hard work of the harvesting season is over, the last thing you want is for your grain quality to be compromised, whether it be by insects, heat, or moisture.
Here are some of the best practices you should follow to ensure the quality of your grain stores long after harvest.
Grain storage should ideally be started in the off-season or in the lead-up to harvest.
Check your storage facilities and silos by repairing seals, hatches, latches and chutes, to prevent insects from gaining access.
Ensure all hatches and outlets operate freely, replace any damaged or perished seals, and pressure test gas-tight sealable silos.
While you’re checking up on the maintenance, now is also a good time to consider any safety improvements that can be made, such as adding signage and lights, or making ladders or walkways safer.
Remember: before entering your silo or any confined space make sure it is adequately ventilated. Ideally you should have a spotter present in case of an incident.
Clean the bins and site area
Insects and mice love warm, sheltered places with a food source, and keeping your grain bug free starts with a clean bin.
This means removing all grain left in the bin and cleaning residues, spills, weeds and rubbish around silos and storage equipment.
Make silos and their site area easier to clean by covering pockets or ledges where grain accumulates and ensure all grain handling equipment is clean and remnant free.
Apply a structural treatment
Structural treatments are another important line of defence in ensuring your grain stores maintain its quality.
After cleaning, consider treating storage and equipment with Diatomaceous Earth (DE) dust or slur. DE is a natural product derived from fossilised water plants, that can kill insects by removing moisture. Be prepared however, as DE needs at least two weeks before loading grain to be effective.
When applying DE, start at the top of the silo, moving to the bottom, and check the label to ensure you don’t exceed maximum residue levels (MRL) – the highest amount of a chemical residue that is legally allowed in a food product sold in Australia.
Avoid putting fresh grain with carry over grain
When it comes time to start storing your grain, it’s also important not to mix the old with the new.
Ensure grain from this year’s harvest isn’t mixed with grain from previous harvests that could be contaminated with insects and disease. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to mix grain to make more room for this year’s harvest, make sure you combine old crops together.
Get advice on a chemical grain protectant
Another option to consider when storing grain, is using a chemical grain protectant to help reduce the risk of insect infestations.
Remember that grain protectants are designed to prevent infestations, not to control them. They should be applied at harvest time as grain goes into storage.
Get advice from your local distributor before choosing a protectant to ensure it is registered for use on the grain (generally protectants are only registered for cereal grains) and that it will effectively target the main insects commonly found.
It’s also a good idea to consider the requirements or preferences of the market for your grain and if they will accept it if protectants have been applied.
The importance of monitoring
Once your grain is properly stored, maintenance and monitoring become key.
Regular monitoring means problems are detected early and can be managed before significant grain damage occurs.
Check stored grain at least once a month during the cooler months and up to fortnightly during the warmer months for both moisture and temperature levels.
To maintain optimum quality of your stored grain, aim for less than 12 per cent moisture content and a temperature of 10 degrees C. There are a lot of tools available to help monitor your storage facilities and detect the beginning of any problems. Temperature probes and moisture meters are a worthwhile investment that will help you keep on top of monitoring and make the process automatic.
Whatever your method for monitoring your grain stores, just ensure you don’t “fill and forget.”
When it comes to storing grain and ensuring its quality and value is retained, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Like every other part of the process of producing grain, storage also requires preparation, attention to detail and management. By working through these steps though, you should be well on your way to reaping the highest return on your crop and that your hard work pays off.