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Monitoring Key To Safe Grain Storage

“If you had a bucketful of money, you’d be out checking on it every day”

– DAVE CROMPTON, OPI SYSTEMS PRESIDENT

It’s often been said that grain in the bin is like money in the bank. But that old analogy may not be a good one. Grain in storage is much less secure, even in today’s tough economic climate. Grain quality can deteriorate, particularly over the long term.

“If you had a bucketful of money, you’d be out checking on it every day,” says Dave Crompton, president of OPI Systems, a company that makes monitoring systems for grain bins. He says producers should treat full granaries in a similar way. Grain in storage, particularly oilseeds, needs regular monitoring to ensure moisture and insects don’t destroy it.

To do that, Crompton says, Prairie producers are increasingly turning to hand-held electronic monitors. These portable devices can be connected to sensors inside any number of bins, providing a readout of moisture content and temperature at various points within the grain pile. Portable monitors, like the ones OPI Systems supplies, cost around $900.

But in order to get the most out of portable monitors, some preplanning is required to ensure the right number of sensors are installed in bins before filling them.

Crompton says one sensor cable down the centre is adequate for bins up to 24 feet in diameter. From 24 to 39 feet, a centre cable and three outer ones will be necessary to get a complete picture of what is going on inside the grain mass. For even larger bins, up to 42 feet in diameter, four outer cables are required. Installing sensor cables will cost about five to 10 cents per bushel on smaller bins and as little as two or three cents on very large bins.

Once the cables are installed, getting an accurate picture of temperature and moisture is just a matter of connecting the monitor and getting a reading. Crompton says some handheld monitors are also capable of tracking a bin’s history for the season, which provides an ongoing picture of how the grain is reacting to conditions inside it.

And in aeration and drying bins, when the drying front moves upward through the pile, sensor cables can monitor the front’s movement and let producers know exactly when to turn off fans. That avoids wasting energy and overdrying grain, which can lead to reduced grades and lower selling prices.

LOW-TECH OPTIONS

But if you don’t already have sensors in place inside your bins, there are other options. You can still get a reasonably good picture of what is going on inside them with some lowtech effort. “The best place to check is the centre at the top during winter storage. About a metre below the surface,” says Randy Clear of the Mycology Lab at the Canadian Grain Commission.

During cold weather, cool air moves down along the insides of bin walls, and warm air rises up through the centre of the grain pile. That can cause condensation to form near the top of a grain mass.

And there are other low-cost ways to check the grain before problems become obvious. Probing the bin with a piece of scrap metal can identify developing hot spots. “There’s a simple way to insert a steel rod into the grain, leave it in for a while and pull it out to see if it’s hot,” says Harry Brook of the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “It’s simple, but it works.”

If you do find problems, taking a couple of truckloads out of the bin may be the best way to quickly stop any deterioration before things get worse. “Moving it (grain) around on a cold day will do it,” says Brook. “The trick is to catch it before it’s really hot. The first couple of loads will likely get the hot spots, because of the way a bin unloads from the centre.”

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