As farming and agriculture first developed in the ancient world, so did the problem of storing the produce after a harvest. There have been many solutions over the centuries; depending on location and culture, grain and other produce would be stored in baskets, dried on roofs and buried like valuable treasure underground in an attempt to keep the food for longer.
Luckily we’re living in the era of technology and grain storage has now become a whole lot simpler for the average farmer. In fact, there is usually only one simple choice to make: which storage system do I use to store my grain?
Losing grain to mould, insects or damage is going to affect your profits, no doubt. We need increased productivity and efficient farm management procedures in place to keep up with the ever-growing demand for produce and ensure that no grain is wasted.
Whether you’ve been sticking to the same storage system for as long as you can remember, or you’re looking for new storage for a new variety of grain you’ve grown, now is a good time to review your time-honoured processes. Technology is constantly changing and improving, so with a little investment now to find the best storage solution for your grain, you can reap the benefits of increased yield and efficient storage for many harvests to come.
When you think about how much money is sitting in those storage containers you’ll want to ensure that your grain only gets the very best! Think of this as protecting your investment. Your grain storage is effectively your bank vault.
What to look for in a grain storage system
Below we’ll go over 3 of the most common grain storage systems along with the pros and cons of each, but before you even begin to look at what’s a good choice for you, it’s important to fully understand what a grain storage system needs to do. There’s no point falling for the newest, shiniest grain storage system on sale with a hundred little gadgets attached when it will be absolutely useless for what you actually need. Practicality is an absolute must.
Here are the 5 things you need to have in mind when choosing a grain storage system:
- Size. You can’t be buying or setting up a grain storage system without knowing how big or small it needs to be. Consider how much grain needs storing and whether your grain storage system needs to have room for surplus if necessary. Take note of volumes carefully. Ensure you have the space available on your farm to implement the changes.
- Accessibility. Following on from the last point, can you even set up your grain storage system on your own land? If it’s too big or you simply don’t want it close to your farm, can you easily access it when you need to check the grain frequently? Also consider how you’re going to be getting the grain into the system and out again, storing grain on your own land removes a lot of transport restrictions that would be in place using public roads.
- Short term or long term. Are you storing your grain for a couple of months or over a year? Some short term grain storage options will be cheap and suitably store your grain for the few months that you need it… but if you’re storing grain again in a few months’ time, would it be better off to invest in a long term system that you can fill and empty with grain when you need?
- Durability. Can the storage system handle the elements on your farm for the duration you will be storing the grain? The storage system needs to be strong enough to withstand any weather while maintaining an internal environment that’s optimum for the grain. Is the storage system robust?
- Recommendations. Your crop supplier might have a recommended grain storage system for the variety of grain you’re growing, or maybe you’ve had some recommendations from fellow farmers. Whatever is recommended to you should be checked against your above requirements just as thoroughly as any other grain storage system. Make your decision based on the facts and ensure that it meets your farm’s needs. Remember no two farms are the same so what may be good for your neighbour’s farm might not necessarily be suitable for yours.
Now let’s dive straight in and get to the types of storage systems on the market that are commonly available.
Storing your grain in poly bags can make a great short term storage solution in climates where the weather doesn’t get too harsh. Woven from plastic, you’ll need to find an elevated, well-drained location for your poly bag storage to avoid the worst of the cons and keep a close eye on wildlife.
- Can come in a variety of sizes to store your grain, from large bags (big enough for a human to fit into) to smaller bags that you can store your grain in until sold directly to consumer.
- Considerably cheap compared to permanent storage systems which need much more complex set ups.
- Makes transporting grain easier as the grain is split into smaller bags making the movement more manageable.
- Bags can be disposed of easily or recycled if no longer required or damaged.
- No protection from pests or grain mould as wildlife can easily puncture the bags.
- Difficult to monitor/control temperature and moisture levels, unless storing bags in proper grain storage building or facility.
- Not recommended for re-using year on year as bags may be damaged and insects/moulds cling to the fibrous bag material.
Drums and Containers
Sometimes called bins, these tend to be large metal containers suitable for storing large amounts of grain. Volume may be listed in litres or tonnes, so make sure you know how much grain you have when looking at these. The set up process and getting the grain into storage drums makes this system more suited for long term storage rather than short term.
- Can be reused for years and fixed if needed, rather than replaced.
- Safe storage for high quality grains that can’t be left in bags.
- Easy to aerate for moisture and temperature control through built in fans and sensors.
- Elevated position and strong metal protection from insects, wildlife and the elements.
- Need a large permanent space for setting up the drums – not ideal for rented farm land and could mean storage system is set up miles away.
- Expensive compared with bag storage as high quality materials used and professional builders needed for construction.
- System will need maintenance/cleaning before reusing for next grain storage.
- Transporting and sorting the grain is likely to be more cumbersome due to the weight and size of the drums.
Buildings and Silos
Possibly the most permanent grain storage solution is to build huts, silos and other buildings that can permanently hold the grain for long or short periods of time. Metal is a good material for storage systems, however brick and wood can also be used for these storage buildings.
- Strong, sturdy storage that protects high quality grain.
- Can store poly bags of grain within the buildings for extra protection.
- Designed for different volumes of grain, depending on what your storage requirements.
- More freedom to build how you like: need easy access for transporting in and out or extra strong support for unusually harsh climates? You could even build a silo or hut type structure that faces away from the usual wind direction if need be.
- Need a permanent location to build the storage system.
- Specialist structural engineers needed to design buildings and silos that can withstand the weight of grain and allow you to control temperature and moisture levels.
- Potentially costly set up, depending on size and materials. Some of the larger permanent grain structures are extremely expensive to build and purchase.
A few extra grain storage tips
The biggest tip we can give you is to check on your stored grain weekly, or if you can’t commit to weekly checks, make sure to inspect your grain storage as frequently as you can.
If you don’t check on your grain, you can’t avoid these problems and manage your storage system effectively.
Insects. A simple insect trap left on, near or in your grain storage will allow you to check your grain quickly each week for insects. Even if it’s just one or two insects one week, you’ll need to take decisive action on how to eradicate the pests, otherwise next week you could potentially come back to find an infestation!
Moisture Levels. Generally you’ll notice straight away when there’s an increase in moisture levels: it tends to gather at the top of your bins, bags or other chosen storage system. If you want to be extra cautious you can take a sample each week to test.
Temperature. You’ll want to monitor the temperature closely to ensure it’s always at the optimum throughout the grain in storage. Cables are much more effective than a simple temperature gauge stuck on the side. Good aeration/ventilation and fans will enable you to change the temperature if need be.
Don’t forget that this is still an active system which requires you to do some maintenance, albeit not as hands on as other farm management systems. Being in control of the storage process from planning through to its implementation is still very important. It could even be the difference between you turning a profit or not on any given harvest.
Farm management and precision agriculture are starting to combine: you need to make smart decisions for your farm that increase efficiency and ensure that everything is working at optimum. Grain storage is no different. We sincerely hope that you’ve found this article helpful in deciding what storage system might be worth a look for your grain this year and encourage you to keep checking back in with the industry for new storage systems and techniques in the future.
Don’t forget that smart farming means staying up to date and making wise, informed decisions.