Gambling with grain bin pests
Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” has been on my mind a lot this season. With the way the weather and markets have been behaving, every choice you make regarding your crops can feel like a roll of the dice. It takes a bit of experience and good information to know when “to hold’em and when to fold’em.”
But regardless of what management choices we make, it’s likely that most of us out there will have to store at least some of our grain. Some because we need to line up new buyers, others because we want to hold out for a better price and in a few lucky cases because we grew far more than you planned. But in any case, storing our grain can be as big a part of this season’s success as growing it.
I come from a postharvest background, originally. My degree is in stored product entomology, so I feel strongly about this issue. Insects don’t stop attacking grain once it’s out of the field. And unfortunately for all of us, each nibble is another bit of money lost that few of us can really afford. We should be thinking about what we can do to stop storage damage now.
Luckily, now’s the perfect time to get started on grain bin hygiene.
“But Dr. Scott,” you may say, “My bin is clean.”
And I, like my dear, sweet mother, will say, “Do it again.”
First, check for damage to the bin’s structure. Insects are insanely good at finding holes in your bins’ walls like arrows finding chinks in a suit of armor. Seal up any cracks or holes you find. This has the added benefit of making other management practices- like air drying and fumigation- more effective if you need to use them. Clean all the surfaces that come into contact with the grain well. This includes your combines and augers. You’d be surprised by the number of insects that small pockets of old grain can harbor.
Speaking of surprises, when planning out your castle’s (i.e. grain bin) defenses, you don’t want to make it easy for the enemy to sneak up on you. Cleaning around the grain bin can remove nesting sites and hiding spots that give pest easy access to your grain. Leave at least a four-foot, ideally gravel perimeter around your bins and remove and refuges. It’s also a good idea to make sure that water drains away from your bins as less standing water reduces moisture your chances of the grain getting moldy.
So you’ve cleaned the bin and the area around it: What’s next? Well, if your bin has a history of infestation, you can apply some preventative pesticides. Treatments that can be applied to the inside walls of the bin, like cyfluthrin and diatamaceous earth, are ideal. Apply until run-off and wait at least twenty-four hours before loading.
And since we’re on the topic, a few things to note about loading your bins. Even if you’re tight on space, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, mix old grain with new. If you’ve been holding old soybean or corn from last season, it’s reasonable to expect that there may be some pest mixed in with it. And that’s even if you’ve been incredibly good about all the other steps up above. Why put your hard-fought new crop at risk just to be more space-efficient is all I’m saying.
Next, make sure that you separate broken kernels and foreign objects as best you can. Doing so can improve air flow which makes fan drying and fumigation afterwards far more efficient. You can also apply chemical protectants directly to the grain, but check that label. Some products, like Actellic 5e, are only approved for specific grains; in this case, corn.
As I wrap this up, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on this season. It’s been a crazy one and I know I’m echoing dozens of other experts when I say that. But there’s no point about fretting about the weather or the other things we can’t control. Simple things, like cleaning the grain bin, we can control and they can have quite an impact. After all, it’s not about the hand you were dealt, but how you play it, that’s important.