When it comes to maximising the lifespan of your grains, proper storage is paramount. Even in the relatively mild climate of the UK, entire grain stores can be spoiled by fluctuating temperatures, poor moisture management and failure to identify insect infestations soon enough.
Start the season off properly by preparing your grain storage well in advance, ensuring that you can maintain the quality of your grain and maximise its commercial potential over the following year.
1. Thoroughly clean your storage units
Cleaning your storage units between each season is essential to keep your crop pest-free. Be sure to repair any damaged areas that may be an ingress for critters of any size – from beetles to pigeons – and fill crevices, cavities and recesses that could provide a hiding spot between seasons. You will also need to clean grain handling equipment and machinery.
If you know you’ve had an infestation in the past, make sure this is completely tackled before refilling your store but keep in mind that use of pesticides will need to be carefully timed so as to avoid residue affecting the crop. If you aren’t sure whether the infestation issue problem persists, installing insect traps around the unit will reveal lingering bugs and mites.
2. Clean your grain
It only makes sense that clean, uniform grain will store better. Once harvested, run it through a grain cleaner to eliminate particulate and unnecessary fibres that can act as insect feed and cause poor aeration during storage. If not removed, these fine materials will be drawn into a dense column at the centre of the storage unit, ultimately causing a concentration of moisture.
Using a grain spreader will also ensure an even distribution of grain in the container, improving aeration and reducing spoilage.
3. Manage your moisture and temperature levels
If moisture and temperature are not controlled, your entire supply will be at risk of growing mould and fungus and their associated mycotoxins. The moisture content for grain should be no higher than 14.5% (with 13% ideal for long-term storage) and where heat processes are used for drying, the grain should be given sufficient time to cool before sealing. Keeping the temperature below 15°C will minimise grain beetles and mites; 12°C or below will prevent grain weevils from hatching. Keeping your stores at 5°C or lower will kill any surviving bugs, but bear in mind that barley for malting cannot be cooled below 10°C.
Using a storage container with an aeration system will ensure you can control grain temperature throughout the seasons, and you may find it beneficial to install a temperature monitoring system to track your batch over its use.
4. Avoid cross-contamination
Insects, mites and other pests are rarely introduced from new crops. Instead, they are usually already in the storage container, living on the residues from last year and being carried between stores on contaminated equipment.
Even small amounts of contaminated grain can infect a new bin with an insect infestation or damp problem, so it’s important to screen batches that are being moved to a new container and check that machinery (and storage bins) are completely clean before loading or unloading. If you can tell what type of grain it was previously used for, then it isn’t clean.
5. Monitor your stores frequently
Checking insect traps, temperature readings and store levels should be carried out weekly, so that any problems can be addressed quickly and grain reserves can be saved. Moisture should be checked monthly, although feel free to do so more often during seasonal shifts. Don’t forget the value of the grain you have, and how much income would be lost from failing to catch an issue quickly enough.
The first indication of a moisture issue would be any amount of condensation on the top of your grain, or samples from the top or bottom of the unit giving off a distinct smell. Your aeration system should be able to eliminate light moisture, but if these fail to dry the grains sufficiently you may need to empty your unit until you reach the section causing the issue.