They say a watched pot never boils, and that's the strategy behind staying on top of potential storage mold and insect problems, says Bill Casady, University of Missouri Extension agricultural engineer in the following article from the latest MU Integrated Pest and Crop Management newsletter:

Like a boil on your skin, a pocket of poorly conditioned grain can spoil the rest of the bin. Keep an eye on it and you can nip it in the ... bin.

Hot dry conditions during the late growing season have left us with a special need to be continuously cautious about stored grain. The production of aflatoxin from the growth of Aspergillus flavus is the primary concern. Continued growth of the storage mold in the bin can lead to continued production of aflatoxin.

As reports of aflatoxin hit the newswire in late December and early January, checking bins for signs of potential spoilage went to the top of our lists. Even some corn that had been supposed to be in good condition has shown some signs of the development of aflatoxin as it moved into the market. Once aflatoxin has been produced, there is no way to remove it from the grain. But with good management, we can minimize activity of Aspergillus flavus and minimize or stop the production of aflatoxin.

There was a relatively smaller opportunity to cool grain to 35 or 40 degrees F in much of Missouri before the end of the calendar year, and a warmer-than-normal January just didn't help much. Now that the weather has finally begun to seem a little more like winter, it is certainly beneficial to run another cooling cycle through the bin even in February. Storage molds and insects will lie dormant at temperatures close to freezing.

It's important to stay on a weekly inspection schedule whenever grain has shown any signs whatsoever of less than ideal quality. Run fans at least momentarily, remaining in a safe location outside the bin. The nose is one of the best tools for detecting a problem.

Be careful when entering a suspicious bin. Carbon monoxide has no odor and no mercy. If possible, remove a truckload or two of grain and determine if the grain has formed a characteristic cone. Never enter a bin with bridged grain. Coring the bin by removing a couple of truckloads will usually remove the most commonly encountered spoiled grain occurring at the top of the bin. Be safe.

Check for insect problems in stored grain

In the Feb. 21 issue of Integrated Pest and Crop Management newsletter, MU Extension entomologist Wayne Bailey writes:

Producers with on-farm stored grain are encouraged to check for insect and other problems in storage facilities. Bins should be inspected throughout the winter and spring seasons to determine if insect activity is present. Stored corn and wheat are most at risk for developing insect problems.

Grain masses should be probed and samples of grain placed in glass jars and inspected for insect activity after the sample grain is warmed to room temperature. If insect infestations are found, cooling the grain to 50 degrees F or less (infestations found in winter months) and/or feeding the grain to livestock are probably the best options, depending on the condition of the infested grain.

Cooling the grain mass to 50 degrees or less stops all insect activity and allows time to find a permanent solution to the problem.

Fumigation is another option, but fumigation requires specific training, a self-contained breathing apparatus, and specialized application equipment. Fumigation is best left to commercial pesticide applicators dealing specifically with stored grain insects.

SOURCE: University of Missouri Extension Integrated Pest and Crop Management newsletter, Feb. 21, 2006.