Nothing is as disheartening as going to all the work of planting, growing, and harvesting your crops just to lose them. This is especially true if it was not caused by the unexpected, but rather by poor grain bin management. Farmers lose up to 40% of their grain annually from spoilage. That’s a lot of wasted money, time, and effort. Often, when you notice the tell-tale signs of grain storage problems, it’s already too late.

Signs of Grain Storage Problems

One of the most obvious signs of grain storage problems is odor. Climbing the bin and sniffing for a musty smell from the top is a good indication that your grain is out of condition. Whatever you do, don’t try to disturb the grain at this point without masking up. When grain is disturbed, mold spores are released. These can cause permanent lung damage when inhaled.

Another indicator that your grain is out of condition is the presence of a crusty layer on top of the grain. This develops when there is too much moisture in the bin. This crusty layer traps moisture beneath it and creates conditions for even more spoilage.

A third sign of grain storage problems is the formation of a grain bridge. It gives the illusion of forming a wall of stable grain. Once disturbed, the entire wall of grain weighing several tons can give way and come crashing down like an avalanche, burying everything in its path.

Lastly, an insect infestation will heat up grain – sometimes as high as 110 degrees. This is a common problem in the center of your grain where fines settle and trap heat and moisture creating the perfect breeding ground for pests.

What to Do When You Discover Grain Storage Problems

The number one thing to know is that if you discover one of these indicators, especially odor, it is often too late to save all the grain. It is already out of condition when you can smell it. At this point, you’re looking to save what you can.

Out of condition grain creates a variety of safety hazards to farmers, sometimes resulting in loss of life. Here are some safety tips to remember when dealing with out of condition grain:

  • Wear a mask when you are working with grain inside the bin to protect your lungs from mold spores. It’s a simple safety measure that can protect you from permanent lung damage.
  • Never enter the grain bin and attempt to stand on the top crust of the grain. It’s like standing on thin ice. One false step can cause it to break and engulf you within the grain. Many farmers lose their lives each year from grain entrapment.
  • If you notice a bridge or grain blockage in your bin with a pole, don’t attempt to dislodge it yourself. Some farmers find success with a harness and pulley system, but others aren’t so lucky. It’s best to call a grain bin cleaning professional who’s trained in this.
  • Be sure to core your bins after drying to remove fines from the center of the grain that stifle air flow. Without the free flow of air while aerating your grain, you will have hot, moist conditions for breeding insects (and molds). Fines from excessive drying and/or handling must be removed during coring.

How to Keep Grain from Going Out of Condition in the First Place

If you can’t detect the signs of out of condition grain until it’s already spoiled, what can you do about it? Be proactive. In the same way that you schedule wellness checks with your doctor even when there’s no apparent illness, schedule grain checks for your bins.

The best, and safest way to check on your grain is with ongoing grain monitoring. There are systems like GrainTrac, a remote grain monitoring system, that allow you to monitor the state of your stored grain in real time. Cables with temperature monitoring sensors are suspended from the roof of your grain bin. The number and length of cables are determined by the size of your bin, but you need enough to cover the entire interior. These cables send data to a secure website you can access from your home computer or smartphone 24/7.

GrainTrac’s ability to monitor your grain in real-time allows you to address issues in the moment. This technology is easy to add to any existing portable system you may be using. GrainTrac also allows you to compare past and present temperatures to watch for trends. You can even set an alarm to notify you if there is movement in your grain like loading or unloading. You will get a text or email message about the situation, giving you an opportunity to respond in real time.

Knowing what’s going on in your bins at all times can preserve the quality of your grain and save energy.

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