Consistently taking the right actions in dry-grain management means longer storage times for wheat, and more market options for farmers. Using proper aeration techniques that manage wheat moisture content, good insect management, and effective wheat storage observation minimize dry-grain problems. From field to bin to market, these are the best practices for storing wheat.
Wheat farmers are trying to wrap up spring harvests before fall corn and soybean harvests begin. It’s a busy time of year on the farm. Historically, wheat farmers have taken their harvests straight to market instead of drying and storing them on-farm. It takes time to properly dry and manage wheat for long-term storage. Time farmers don’t have.
Given the current wheat market, however, many farmers are making the decision to store their wheat on-farm anyway. Being able to dry and store freshly harvested wheat produces a higher quality product. Wheat that has been rewetted repeatedly with dew and rain while awaiting field drying is almost always compromised. So that’s one advantage.
Market management is the biggest reason farmers are turning to drying and storing wheat on-farm. And it’s even more appealing when drying and handling equipment is already in place for other crops. Sure, it’s pressure to get it all orchestrated, but getting top dollar for wheat right now trumps logistical irritations.
Getting the Right Wheat Moisture Content for Storage
The ideal wheat moisture content at harvest is between 18% and 20%. This is above the ideal wheat moisture content for stored wheat. You’ll want to bring the moisture content down to 13.5% if you plan to sell soon, since that is the ideal wheat moisture content for the best selling price. If you plan to store the wheat for a year, or more, you’ll want to bring it down even more to 12.5%.
To dry wheat, air is forced at a high flow rate through the grain, which carries moisture away. It’s the temperature and relative humidity of the drying air that causes wheat to dry to a desired moisture level.
Let’s say the air is 60 degrees and the relative humidity of the air is 70%. If that air is heated to 80 degrees, the relative humidity will drop to around 35%. Those conditions would take the wheat’s moisture content from say 14% to under 9%. When the air is heated, it can hold more water, which in turn dries the wheat to a lower moisture content.
Field to Bin – Time Your Harvest with Intention
Physiologically, wheat matures at about 40% moisture content. It loses, on average, 2.5% moisture content per day in the field after maturity. Keep an eye on this process, since it can dry more quickly, and you want to harvest when wheat is between 18% and 20% moisture content.
Harvesting earlier with a higher moisture content makes kernels more vulnerable to damage, introducing opportunities for fungus and insect damage. Harvesting later with a lower moisture content than 15% is just as problematic. You’ll experience increased cutterbar losses, more lodging, tall weeds interfering with harvesting, and declining test weights from environmental moisture.
Harvesting winter wheat at 20%, or just below, helps keep grain quality good, but also makes room for earlier double-crop planting. Maximum wheat production, plus double-crop soybean or corn yields? Who doesn’t want that?
Adjusting your combine settings during harvest not only gives you a clean sample, but helps reduce loss. Too much air through sieves means grain lost out the back. If you’re losing around 18 kernels behind the combine per square foot, that’s about a lost bushel per acre. Change combine settings one at a time to determine optimum harvest results.
Using In-Bin Aeration to Dry Wheat
Aeration is commonly used to dry and store wheat in the same bin. Heated air flow no more than 20 degrees warmer than the grain, plus sweeping or stirring devices will dry wheat efficiently. Don’t load wheat bins to a depth greater than seven to nine feet, because it is more resistant to airflow than corn.
Ideally, your wheat bin has a perforated floor and a fan that can move 0.1 cfm per bushel when full. Even air distribution throughout your wheat is essential, so be sure grain is level. Infestations are most likely to develop in peaks lacking even air flow.
The rule of thumb is to dry wheat in the bin to under 17% before adding more wheat. Continue drying and adding wheat with a goal of keeping it below 17% moisture content until full (no more than nine feet for wheat) and level. Then run fans continuously to drop the wheat moisture content to 15%. To finish drying to the best wheat moisture content, run fans only during low humidity times – usually at night – to get to 12.5%.
To keep drying costs low and grain quality high, here are a few more drying tips:
- Harvest your wheat at 20% or lower moisture content.
- Be sure bins are clean and sanitized; load wheat into bins within 12 hours of harvest.
- Check the moisture content of each load prior to loading in the bin.
- Start fans when the wheat depth is one foot; make sure it’s level – no cones.
- Use stir augers or other devices to keep wheat blended.
- Monitor the temperature and moisture content daily until the desired level is achieved.
- Turn the heat off when the wheat moisture content is 14% to 15%.
- Continue running fans at times of low humidity, aerating with natural air to 12.5%
- Monitor wheat temperature and moisture content regularly while stored.
Continuous-flow dryers are a good option for wheat, since they are only drying the amount of grain in the dryer. If you can accommodate it, the drying process will be faster. Also, you’ll have more control over the exact moisture content for wheat prior to storage. But, effective wheat moisture management can be done with either method.
Insect Management with Grain Temperature Monitoring
Insect and fungi management begin in the field. Adjusting combine settings to minimize foreign materials and dockage is crucial. Dockage in stored wheat makes it easier for insects to survive unfavorable conditions you create for them in your bins. Essentially, if you load up a bin with less than clean wheat, you’re working at cross-purposes for your grain’s longevity.
Knowing your grain temperature is the best way to control the condition of your stored wheat. At 14% moisture content, mold growth slows, and at 12%, it’s difficult for insects to develop. Grain temperatures of 70 degrees, or more, are conducive to insect reproduction and feeding. At 60 degrees, there’s a rapid decline in insect reproduction. At 50 degrees and below, insect activity slows to a halt when insects die from starvation due to low temperatures.
Left unchecked, wheat’s most damaging pests can grow from egg to adult within 30 days. It’s imperative that you quickly dry and cool wheat to create a hostile growth environment and avoid a damaging infestation.
Temperature control is the best means for controlling fungi and insect development in your stored wheat.
Bin Observation and Wheat Moisture Management
Top condition grain that is stored in a clean, sanitized bin will stay that way with proper monitoring and management. The best way to achieve that is by installing an in-bin grain temperature monitoring system with temperature cables. That way, you can monitor your wheat’s temperature at several points throughout your bin in just a few minutes.
The success of your wheat management system relies on knowing the temperature of your grain throughout the bin. Grain temperature is always the most reliable indicator of grain condition.
You can immediately identify precisely where conditions in your bin are favorable for insects, and are heating. Temperature cables throughout your bin also show you where moisture migration may be occurring, which can rapidly deteriorate and heat wheat. Having complete grain temperature data at your fingertips gives you the information you need to take action.
Operating your aeration system becomes more efficient too when you have access to grain temperatures throughout your bin. When you have a grain temperature monitoring system set up on your bins, you’re able to avoid over-drying that causes shrinkage.
Grain temperature sensors in your bin also take the guesswork out of running your fans. If you’re the cautious type, you may be running fans more than necessary to be on the safe side. The problem is, you unwittingly may be doing more harm than good.
A good grain temperature monitoring system like any of the three portable systems that Tri-States Grain Conditioning has been making for years will give you an accurate picture of what’s going on inside your bin. GrainTrac is their wireless system that allows you to monitor the grain inside your bin remotely. You can even start and stop fans remotely, if you choose. Plus, you can thwart grain thieves with GrainTrac’s theft monitoring circuit.
Are you looking to improve your dry-grain management for longer wheat storage times, and more market flexibility? Use proper aeration strategies, good insect deterrence, and effective wheat storage temperature monitoring.
Tri-States Grain Conditioning can help you with all your dry-grain management goals. Call Tri-States Grain Conditioning at 800 438 8367, contact us here, or live chat with us here to ask about remote grain temperature monitoring
Follow us on Facebook where we discuss a variety of farming topics including grain temperature monitoring and smart farming.