Do You Know Your Storage Options?

In recent years, many farmers have turned to alternative storage options, such as bags, to stockpile bin-busting yields. ( Lindsey Benne )

Quick Look:

  • Grain bins- monitor moisture, internal temperatures/aeration, insects and mold and be prepared to adjust on-the-fly. Because of technology it's a potentially lower-management system.
  • Grain bags- a cheaper per-bu. cost that allows farmers to store grain at higher moisture levels (25% to 30%) but it can be a higher-maintenance system.
  • Grain piles- needs some kind of floor aeration and farmers should expect some loss to spoilage.

You’ve heard over and over again this year to expect wetter-than-normal grain this harvest. Are you prepared to condition and store it all? You’ll have options, not only off-farm, but more than one on-farm option, too.

For those of you using on-farm storage, popular options include grain bins or grain bags. While ground piles have been used in past years, they have additional risks that might not be realized in bins or bags.

Grain bin considerations

Manage your grain in storage by checking moisture, internal temperature/aeration, insects and mold, and adjust as needed.

“Moisture is your No. 1 consideration,” says Charles Hurburgh, Iowa State University Extension engineer. “Decide ahead of time if you want to store grain for a long period—it might mean you take moisture levels lower than what you get paid for, like 13%, to increase shelf life.”

Store corn at 15.5% moisture in the winter and between 13% and 14% in the summer, Hellevang says. More than 70% relative humidity of the air within the grain encourages mold growth, and insect activity can increase when temperatures in the storage facility are above 60°F. 

Use fans and aeration to cool grain when the temperature outside is 10°F to 15°F higher than the internal temperature, recommends University of Nebraska Extension. During the winter, keep grain from 25°F to 30°F in northern states and at least 40°F or cooler in southern states.

Grain bag dynamics

“Grain bags cost about five to seven cents per bushel, not including bagging equipment costs,” says Craig Fisher, owner of Antelope Farm Supply in North Dakota. “It’s very important to keep in mind this is temporary storage.”

Grain bag lifespan is about two years, Fisher says. A bagger can cost around $24,000 and an extractor costs about $34,000. Bags can hold anywhere from 13,000- to 34,000-plus bu. of grain.

“The No. 1 mistake customers make is they try to put 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag,” Haley says. “You just want to stretch it enough to get the wrinkles out, don’t overstretch the bag.”

Any excess stretching in width takes away from the length of the bag and can make the bag more likely to rip or have other damage in the stretched spot. The normal farm-sized bag is 10’ in diameter, while commercial bags are 12’ in diameter.

It’s a high-management, hands-on system that requires you to move product in under two years. Know your management style before pulling the trigger on grain bags. Learn more about how to be successful with this option here.

Grain pile concerns

Many recommendations focus on grain bin storage—where farmers have more control. Understanding what happens before grain is put in bags or a pile is critical for these alternate forms of on-farm storage.

Bunkers or piles require a floor of some sort, aeration and a cover. Leaving grain exposed can quickly lead to spoilage. Even 1" of rain that only affects the top 1' of grain raises the moisture content by 9 percentage points, and it’s not uncommon for 2' to 3' to be spoiled.

Like much of farming, your storage strategy also depends on location. If you’re in an area where it’s more humid you’ll need to manage differently than in a dry climate. The same is true with rainfall and temperature.