Alternative Storage for corn presentation at Big Iron
Presenting at Big Iron Field Demos on alternative corn storage were: John Nowatzki, Extension ag machine systems specialist; Kyle Olson, of Plymouth, Minn., sales rep with Extron; Quinn Brustuen, sales representative with Hanson Silo Company; Tom Scott, JMI Covers regional sales manager from Winona, Minn.; Zane Erickson, the owner of North Star Ag, of Buffalo, N.D. and dealer for Loftness Specialized Equipment grain baggers, Hector, Minn., and Ken Hellevang, NDSU Extension engineer.

WEST FARGO, N.D. – A lack of corn bin storage could occur in some regions this fall, requiring producers to temporarily pile grain on the ground.

With adequate planning, farmers may have a couple of options for maintaining corn quality before it is moved into bins or shipped.

Ken Hellevang, NDSU Extension engineer, is working to get the word out about alternative storage for the 2017 corn crop, and beyond.

“We had superb 2016 yields and unfortunately the price was not good, and so a lot of farmers put their grain into storage, and there is quite a bit of that still in storage,” Hellevang said.

North Dakota was storing 202 million bushels as of June 1, 2017, compared with 121 million bushels for the same timeframe in 2016 for a total increase of 81 million bushels.

According to the National Ag Statistics Service, farmers in North Dakota reported they were storing 65 million more bushels on the farm this year (145 million bushels) compared to a year ago (80 million bushels).

It’s not much different for Minnesota farmers, where yields were also excellent. Farmers were storing 51 million more corn bushels as of June 1, 2017 (490 million bushels), compared with a year earlier (440 million bushels).

Total corn stocks in Minnesota as of June 1 was 664 million bushels. USDA releases a new corn stocks report on Sept. 29.

During Big Iron Farm Show’s field demonstrations, Hellevang and John Nowatzki, NDSU Extension ag machine systems specialist, organized a program on storing corn in bags or bunkers.

“In some areas, probably storage quantity isn’t going to be an issue, but in other areas there is going to be again questions about where they put this grain,” Hellevang said.

Bagging corn for grain continues as an option for temporary storage.

A tractor, grain bagger and bags are needed for this fairly-inexpensive method of protecting the corn.

Zane Erickson, the owner of North Star Ag, of Buffalo, N.D. and dealer for Loftness Specialized Equipment grain baggers, Hector, Minn., said a 10-foot (diameter) by 300-foot bag will hold 13,000 bushels, a 10-foot by 500-foot bag holds 22,000 bushels, and a 12-foot by 500-foot bag will hold 36,000 bushels.

The 10-foot diameter system (bags and grain bagger unit) has an amortized cost of 11-15 cents per bushel. That’s based on five years of use/ownership, storing 500,000 bushels per year, and purchasing bags annually for five years.

If the farmer stores 1 million bushels of grain, the cost over five years is less than 10 cents per bushel.

The 12-foot system has a slightly higher amortized cost and is designed for large growers or commercial operators, such as elevators, co-ops and grain terminals.

“In general, when farmers use the bags appropriately, they are a good option,” said Hellevang. “If you do it correctly, we have a number of farmers storing corn in the bag into the next summer.”

There are techniques that can improve the potential for successful grain storage and handling.

Bags are filled with a North/South orientation on a well-drained and level lot.

Normally, bagged corn should be stored at 13-15 percent moisture.

If a winter storm is forecast and corn needs to be harvested and stored in a bag, the corn can be harvested at 20-23 percent moisture and stored in a bag. As long as temperatures are near or below freezing, the corn should keep, but it needs to be removed from the bag before the grain begins to thaw.

Crows and birds, deer and raccoons can all rip into grain bags, so the bags need to be checked frequently for tears that allow in oxygen and moisture that causes spoilage. Hellevang added that any holes need to be closed tight with tape designed for that purpose.


A 101-year-old crane and feed storage solution company, Hanson Silo Company, of Lake Lillian, Minn., offers 4- to 16-foot bunker walls for storing corn, soybeans, wheat, canola, flax, Distillers dried grains and more.

They are happy to work with other companies to provide complete grain storage systems, such as Extron Electronics – that provide environmental monitoring and management; and JMI Covers, LLC, that offers storage covers.

“We’ve done bunker piles for as small as 20,000 bushels all the way up to 5 million bushels,” said Quinn Brustuen, sales representative with Hanson Silo Company.

Bunkers can be placed to form a round, rectangular or oval perimeter. With the potential for heavy autumn rains, high quality tarps are needed to keep the grain in condition. Grain needs to be piled as close to the top of the wall system as possible to allow water to run off the pile rather than being trapped inside the bunker wall.

It may look like corn pile tarps are shrink wrapped over the piles, but that’s not the case. Fans continuously suck air out to keep the tarp in place over the grain. Straps with ratchets serve as a backup to hold the cover in place in case of a power outage.

“The most common materials used for ground piles are the 8 mil string and woven polyethylene,” said Tom Scott, JMI Covers regional sales manager from Winona, Minn.

Hanson Silo Company can pour bunkers with openings for ventilation fans. With the fans in place, Extron can provide a control box using a variable frequency drive and a cloud-based control and monitoring system.

Wind speeds are collected locally via an anemometer and weather stations. With a variable frequency drive, the fan speed can be run between 20 percent capacity to full speed.

The fan suction is increased as winds increase, and vice versa to save energy, said Kyle Olson, of Plymouth, Minn., sales rep with Extron.

Extron also offers environmental monitoring of corn grain piles. They place temperature sensors in the grain that provide notification if a hot spot develops.

Carbon dioxide sensors near the exhaust fans can also indicate if there is mold or an insect outbreak in the pile.

In many cases, corn in a bunker needs to be run through the dryer. If the air temperature is around freezing or colder, the corn will stay in condition at 15 percent moisture. If it is getting stored into the next summer, then the corn needs to be down to 13.5-14 percent moisture.

After the corn is run through the dryer, it needs to be placed in a cooling bin before it goes into the pile.

The corn needs to be dried and cooled before it goes into the pile to enhance storability, said Hellevang. For every 10 degrees the grain is cooled, the allowable storage time is doubled.

“The corn should be dry going into the pile and needs to have aeration ducts on the floor, and on top of the grain and under the cover over the top,” he said.

In closing, he pointed out that leaving corn in a pile on the ground without a cover is taking a risk. Getting some sort of cover on the corn can help save the quality of the crop.

He gave an example of a 25-foot-tall pile of about 59,000 bushels. If 1 foot of grain is lost due to water absorption, from 1 inches of rain, that has raised the moisture content by 9 percentage points, and about 13 percent of the crop is lost, he figured.

“You are losing more than 10 percent of the grain in the pile, and at $4 per bushel, unfortunately less than that now, but that would be a loss of about $39,000,” Hellevang said. “The covers are expensive, but not covering it is going to be even more expensive.”