There are more options than ever before about where and how growers sell their grain. However, no matter what market is chosen, grain must be free of insects, mould and chemical residues. To get the best return, grain storage needs time and planning, while storage systems must provide a consistent high quality product and have the flexibility to meet market demands.
When considering on-farm grain storage, questions, like “How do I want to market my grain?,” “What storage system do I need?” and “How do I get started?” are commonly asked.
To help get the best out of grain storage systems and avoid potential pitfalls, the grain storage solutions and experiences of three farmers in the WA wheatbelt have been outlined here. Each used different storage solutions to meet their marketing requirements or to enable them to use grain on-farm, but all highlight the importance of spending the time to prepare and maintain on-farm storage.
‘Deloraine’, Brad & Kylie Nottle, Kweda, West Corrigin
The Nottle’s property crops a mix of barley, lupin, peas, wheat and export hay. Following deregulation of the wheat industry, Brad re-assessed how he marketed his grain, and as a result has recently invested in 28 sealed silos, each with a 75 tonne capacity, for on-farm storage.More
“We decided that we wanted to play the market more. With continual rises in costs of production, it’s important that we can get the best dollar for our product. We have to be very sure of our exact cost of production, and have the flexibility to store many different grades of each crop to take advantage of more niche markets.”
Brad decided to put a larger number of smaller silos on farm to give greater flexibility and enable him to blend the grain to meet market specifications, including standards for export.
“This system also allows us to ‘buddy-up’ with neighbours to chase specific grades to fill orders. In the long term, we should see a considerable saving in storage and handling costs.”
To keep insects under control, Brad has installed aeration systems on eight silos, using a genset to power them. Aeration slows insect reproduction rates and maintains grain quality by cooling the temperature of the grain. In addition, having sealed silos enables Brad to fumigate his grain with phosphine, and when combined with regular monitoring, reduces the impacts of grain insects.
“Everything costs money, so we decided to start small with the aeration, and will install more units as we can afford it. Having aeration also allows us to manage things better with heat and harvesting, particularly with malt barley.”
‘Kerrigan Feedlot’, Trevor & Sharon Hincks, East Hyden
The Hinck’s property consists of a cropping program and cattle feedlot. Trevor has used silo bags in conjunction with fixed grain storage silos, largely for storing feed grain for his feedlot. Trevor feels silo bags fit neatly into his farming system, particularly for short term storage of feed grain, providing the best utilisation of capital.More
“Our feedlot consumption can be as high as 100 tonnes each week. If I invested significant capital into a 500 tonne silo, it would be empty in a month, so capital would only be utilised for 6 to 8 weeks each year. Silo bags are a cheap, flexible way to store feed grain, and they still allow me to segregate the grain type and quality in 200 to 300 tonne lots.”
To ensure the grain quality in a silo bag, planning and preparation is as essential as with fixed infrastructure.
“Silo bags need to be managed like silos, they can’t just be dumped anywhere. Its important that you set aside a big paddock or ‘grain yard’, which is set up right for silo bags.”
Maintaining the integrity of the bag is priority number one, that way insects, rodents and moisture don’t damage the grain. Trevor prepares his grain yard by firstly fencing it off to keep stock out, then scraping down the surface and rolling. He never places bags on stubble, and if the yard has a slope, the opening of the bag is put on the down-hill side to prevent water running into the bag. Before the bags are filled, Trevor spreads urea to keep mice at bay.
“It’s really important to keep vermin under control, and don’t leave any refuge areas for them to breed in, that goes for grain insects as well. It’s important to keep monitoring the bags for any breaches and take samples when necessary.”
‘Warra Kairan Farm’, Geoffrey & Vivienne Marshall, East Hyden
The Marshall’s farm concentrates on cropping, including wheat, barley, field peas, canola and saia oats. Geoffrey has invested in six 500 tonne unsealed Westeel aerated silos. The catalyst for Geoffrey to move into on-farm grain storage was managing grain quality.More
“Having total control over the quality in particular, is paramount. That and the fact that you are certain of the quality of the grain being sent to buyers at any one time.”
Geoffrey’s grain is sold domestically to various millers and feed lots, who are chasing good quality grain that is of a consistent standard.
“Feedlots need consistent quality grain to achieve the fastest turn-around time for their animals – don’t think delivering damaged grain is going to cut it”. The end use of the grain determined the type of silo system Geoffrey required.
“I was going for cheap, large silos. I found the smaller sealed silos were much more expensive, and given that my strategy didn’t require me to blend or mix different grades, or to transfer grain between silos, large un-sealed aerated silos tended to fit the bill”.
In Geoffrey’s system, grain quality is managed in three ways – aeration, farm hygiene and Dryacide®.
“Insects love warm moist conditions for breeding, so cooling the silo with aeration slows their build up. I remove any grain spills to prevent weevils from flying in from nearby bush, and by cleaning the silos with Dryacide® following emptying, any remaining insects are dehydrated and killed. Using unsealed silos means there is no quick fix phosphine bomb if things get out of control, so you must monitor things regularly.”