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Grain Quality: Importance of Proper Grain Handling and Storage

Growers take pride in their quality grain products, providing consistent, reliable stock to consumers across North America. In such a highly competitive industry, it’s vital for grain producers to improve their grain handling and storing processes to ensure they produce the highest quality grain products possible. Since grain quality is directly related to growers’ profits, having the right grain handling and storage equipment and processes is essential for keeping grain businesses thriving.

Grain stock is susceptible to an array of threats that can damage the grain and leave growers in short supply. Knowing the biggest types of grain damage and shrinkage risks is key to improving grain quality and preventing costly losses.

Cost of Grain Damage and Shrinkage

Domestic grain production is an increasingly competitive industry, requiring innovative solutions to protect stock and maximize its value. It’s estimated that today only 30 percent of global grain production happens on American soil due to increased agriculture technology in international markets. If growers want to retain their market share on both national and international scales, increasing production efficiency and protecting stock are essential ways to tighten operations and maximize profits.

Roughly one-quarter to one-third of the world’s grain stock is lost or damaged during storage. Any time a grower’s grain supply is damaged or lost, it can have a costly result on the operation’s bottom line. Damage occurs when the grain quality deteriorates for any number of reasons, making the product less valuable. The true cost of grain damage varies by facility and the amount of product that has been affected by quality degradation.

Shrinkage is another primary threat to grain producers, and it occurs when grain that’s too wet undergoes a moisture removal process. If grain is over-dried during this process, kernels will shrink in size and weight, making the supply less valuable. On average, grain shrinkage during storage is estimated to be between 0.5 and 1 percent of the total grain inventory. To calculate the value of grain shrinkage, multiply the amount lost by the sale price of the grain. Over time, losses from shrinkage and quality deterioration can accumulate. Without proper grain handling and storage processes, these costs can add up to significant financial losses for the business.

Types of Grain Damage

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates and upholds specific standards for each type of grain harvested in America to be sold on the consumer market. These standards help determine what types and levels of damage are acceptable or not, which results in maintaining or downgrading the product’s market value. For example, maize, wheat and soybeans each have their own standards for what’s considered grain damage.

Grain damage is a broad term but refers to whenever the quality of the grain is impacted or degraded due to some step in the harvesting and grain handling process. Throughout the grain handling process, products go through a variety of steps, including free falling, transporting on grain conveyors and moving stock in elevators. At any of these points, grain stock is at risk of damage and shrinkage. To prevent either outcome, it’s important to ensure that each step in the handling process is implemented with the primary priority of preserving and grain integrity and monitoring for grain quality.

When grain handling processes are inefficient or compromised in any way, it can make the product vulnerable to damage. The three primary types of grain damage are due to insects and pests, cracking and splitting, and temperature and moisture issues.

1. Insect and Pest Damage

In the agriculture business, growers are highly cautious about pests during growing season, taking careful precautions to protect crops from insect damage. However, once harvested and stored, many of the pest control measures become lax even though pest and insect damage is still a real threat during storage.

Improperly stored grain is highly susceptible to insect and pest invasion and subsequent damage — just as much as during growing season. Pests and insects damage stored grain in multiple ways. Firstly, they can invade storage facilities and feed on stored grain, reducing product volume. Pest contamination also impacts the grain’s nutritional value and lowers the product’s market value. Insects and pests reduce the grain’s overall quality. The reduced quality combined with the contamination downgrades the product’s market value based on Federal Grain Inspection Service standards and regulations.

2. Broken Kernels

Broken and cracked kernels are a common and preventable form of grain damage. The mechanical systems involved in harvesting and drying grain require kernels to be moved from one place to another throughout the process. When any of the grain handling machinery isn’t adjusted correctly, it can cause stress fractures in the kernels being handled. One of the common ways these stress fractures happen is when grain on grain impact occurs during handling. Kernels that have developed stress fractures from improper handling during free falling risk becoming split open entirely, making the stock less valuable.

Broken and cracked kernels downgrade a product’s market value. The USDA has specific standards on kernel sizes, and inspectors use specialty sieves to measure kernels. Anything that falls below the standard kernel size (depending on the type of grain) is considered cracked and, therefore, given a downgraded market value. Investing in high-quality grain handling equipment is essential to preventing cracked and broken kernels caused by mechanical damage.

3. Moisture and Temperature Damage

For growers to produce a quality, valuable product, they need to ensure moisture is well controlled during storage. Grains that remain too wet during storage because they weren’t adequately dried out can become a breeding ground for mold and fungus. When grain stock harbors mold, it can destroy the product and have costly consequences.

Because mold growth is such an unpleasant type of grain damage, growers must invest in grain drying machinery that dries out wet grain stock to prevent spores. However, if the grain drying equipment isn’t calibrated correctly, its high temperatures can just as readily damage the stock. When temperatures get too high and grain dries out too much, it can expend kernels from the inside and cause stress fractures, risking becoming broken. When kernels break due to over-drying, the USDA classifies it as heat damage — a different type of damage than grain on grain impact that causes broken kernels.

Another risk of improper temperature control in grain handling is the risk of shrinkage. When grain dries out too much, it becomes lighter. Because grain stock is valued by its weight and other properties, grain that has dried out too much shrinks and its value lowers. All grain types have an optimal temperature at which to store the product to prevent environments that are too wet or too dry. Following proper temperature guidelines for grain can reduce moisture damage and prevent shrinkage and breakage from grain that’s too dry.

How to Improve Grain Quality During Handling and Storage

The best way to reduce the risk of grain damage and shrinkage is to identify which steps in the grain handling and storage process are contributing to the damage. Once you know how the damage is occurring, you can implement better grain handling and storage practices to prevent damage and shrinkage, improve grain quality and retain its value.

Preventing grain damage and increasing grain quality during handling and storage requires adequate temperature and moisture control, regularly monitoring stock and investing in the right grain handling equipment.

1. Temperature Control

Proper temperature control for grain stock is essential to maintaining a high-quality supply and preventing damage and shrinkage. Depending on the type of grain being stored, different temperature standards will be required. Some grains undergo a slower drying process than others, which helps preserve their size and weight and prevent shrinkage.

Temperature control is part of the grain drying process used to eliminate moisture in the grain bin. Grain that’s too wet needs to undergo a specific drying process whereby warm air is forced through a blower and heats up the kernels. As the kernels warm up, their exterior moisture evaporates and is exhausted outside. The further the kernels heat up, the more interior moisture rises to the grain’s surfaces and becomes fully evaporated. Once the kernels are dry, it’s necessary to circulate cool air into the grain bin to reduce the temperature to a level that’s appropriate for storage.

The key to preserving grain quality during the grain drying process is not to overheat or underheat the kernels at any time. Having the right mechanical systems that will maintain grain bin temperature control is paramount to preserving product quality. Today, temperature control solutions are highly advanced, with smart sensors and temperature cables that allow growers to monitor grain quality and temperature remotely and make necessary adjustments to protect grain stock.

2. Moisture Control

High-moisture content in grain storage can breed mold and attract insects. To prevent mold growth and pest contamination and preserve grain quality, it’s critical to keep moisture levels under control. Moisture content is tied to grain bin temperature control and how well regulated the temperature is.

Grain naturally contains a certain level of moisture, both on the exterior and the interior. To thoroughly remove moisture and prevent grain damage, the grain undergoes a drying process. Just as the drying process requires temperature regulation, it also requires ongoing moisture testing to ensure that the kernels have dried to the appropriate level.

Many grain drying systems take into account a side effect known as “moisture rebound,” which occurs when kernels weren’t evenly dried. If grain stock is tested directly after the drying process is complete, the tests will usually indicate a low level of moisture. However, in the ensuing 24 hours, any remaining moisture inside the kernels has had time to even out or rebound. To prevent moisture rebound, it’s helpful to dry out the kernels slightly longer so they reach a lower moisture content than the standard moisture content for that grain type. This way, growers aren’t caught off guard by the change in moisture content, and they can prevent any contamination that may otherwise result.

3. Perform Weekly Inspections

When implementing better grain handling quality control practices, it’s essential to incorporate weekly inspections. Ongoing monitoring on grain storage facilities and grain stock ensures that you can address any issues that may potentially cause grain damage.

When performing regular inspections, it’s essential to examine the grain stock itself as well as the loading machinery and mechanical systems. Any malfunctions in grain loading equipment, ducts or fans can prevent proper grain handling and storage, leading to possible grain damage or shrinkage. Look for any cracks in grain bins or signs of weathering that can compromise the grain storage environment.

Keeping grain bins intact is essential to managing issues between moisture and grain. As grain bins age and wear out, they can allow moisture to seep in and spur mold growth. It’s possible that growers may leave their grain stored for several weeks before they notice mold growing in the grain bin. By taking time to perform weekly inspections, growers can maintain grain quality and prevent costly damage.

4. Use the Proper Grain Handling Equipment

Investing in proper grain handling equipment is an essential way to prevent stock damage. Increasingly, growers are investing in customized grain moving equipment that’s designed to meet their needs and address key issues of grain damage they’ve experienced in the past.

Grain handling equipment exists for every step of the grain handling process to protect grain and maintain its quality. With a grain handling system, growers can achieve a more streamlined process that’s less labor intensive. Having a smooth-running grain handling system is critical. The more efficient the system is, the less the grain needs to be moved, and the less risk there will be of mechanical damage.

Grain moving equipment like grain conveyors protect grain crops and move grain more efficiently to maximize productivity. Other grain handling equipment solves a common problem growers face from grain on grain impact — broken and cracked kernels that downgrade market value. Customized dead boxes cushion free falling grain and protect kernels from damage.

Custom Grain Handling Equipment From LCDM

Growers know the importance of grain quality and what impact it has on their profits. That’s why investing in custom grain handling equipment is critical to protecting grain stock and maximizing efficiency. Custom grain handling solutions from LCDM are designed for the different grain flow needs of every business. LCDM can engineer custom grain handling solutions for new facilities or for those requiring an expansion upgrade.

All custom grain handling solutions from LCDM prioritize grain quality and are designed to protect grain stock from damage during handling. Grain handling solutions like the DBAR Adjustable Cushion Box ensure your stock is protected from grain on grain impact during free fall with a patented design that collects and cushions grain. All LCDM grain flow equipment is designed to the highest standards to ensure that growers get the grain flow system they need.

From the truck to the bin, LCDM handling equipment keeps grain safe. Learn more about our grain handling equipment for safer grain. Or contact LCDM today for more information on developing a custom grain handling solution. Call us at 1-888-963-9145 or contact us online.

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