by Katie Navarra

Imagine your 200-ton storage bin filled with 30,000 $1 bills. Larry Eckhardt asked if you would walk away for six months and assume it’d all still be there and in good shape. He and son Matt operate Kinderhook Creek Farm in Stephentown, NY. The third-generation family farm grows hay, small grains, corn, pumpkins and squash.

“You have to monitor your stored grain like you would a bin full of cash,” he said.

Grain storage management was the topic of a Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agriculture & Horticulture Program workshop hosted at Eckhardt’s farm. The program focused on integrated pest management strategies and SLAM.

“We like to talk about SLAM management for stored grain, sanitation, loading (grain into bins properly), aeration and monitoring,” said Aaron Gabriel, Cornell Cooperative Extension senior Extension resource educator, agronomy. “Clean bins meticulously a couple weeks before loading. Apply insecticides to empty bins. Clean combines and harvest equipment before harvest so bugs and molds are not introduced to new grain.”

Treating the bin isn’t always necessary, according to Ken Wise, a New York State IPM specialist. However, sanitation and cleanliness, including removing floorboards and vacuuming up leftover grain, is critical. Removing excess grain off the bin sides and seams is equally important.

“Some grain gets stuck to the walls because of moisture,” he said. “It’s dangerous to go into a bin with grain in there, but if it’s empty it’s a good idea to get in there and clean.”

Three weevils in particular – the granary, rice and maize varieties – are the most common species to watch for. These insects lay eggs on the grain and as the larvae hatch, they feed on the grain inside, leaving empty kernels. That process invites a set of secondary pests that feed on the waste. There are about 10 – 15 secondary pests that include the grain borer and the Indian meal moth.

“The weevils are either coming in with the grain, or the bigger issue is that they are left over from the previous crop because a grower didn’t clean the bin before bringing a new load in,” Wise said.

Weather in the Northeast can help growers minimize pest activity. Although it’s typically warm at harvest time, when temperatures dip, it’s not conducive for insects to move and reproduce.

“You can limit damage to almost nothing if you dry your grain and keep it down around 40 degrees,” he said. “You have to be careful because you don’t want to freeze the grain.”

Wise encourages growers to use a sifter screen to monitor insect population levels. Although the bugs are small – about 1/16” long – they tend to congregate in groups toward the top level of the grain. An easily visible mass of moving black particles indicates a pest presence and possible infestation.

It is possible to treat grains and the bins with insecticides, though it’s not a common practice in the Northeast, Wise said. For those who feel treatment is necessary, he can provide recommendations based on a conversation that discusses specific circumstances.

“There are organic and non-organic options,” he said. “The best option is sanitation and plugging up any holes so insects can’t get in.”

Regular monitoring is important for more than pest management. Checking temperature and moisture ever two weeks is essential, according to Gabriel. He recommends a three- or four-foot compost thermometer or grain sensors inside the bin. Another option is a thermometer that screws onto the end of 3/8” threaded rod, which is pushed into the grain mass.

“As the temperature changes through the season, the grain mass temperature must also be changed to stay within 15 degrees of the average daily temperature by using aeration,” Gabriel said. “It is not an issue if you have a week or so of unusual cold or heat, but if the trend is warming or cooling, the grain mass must follow within 15 degrees.”

Eckhardt likes to use what he calls the eyeglasses test. He climbs to the top of the bin, opens the hatch and sticks his face over the opening while wearing glasses. “If they fog up then I know I still need the fans on,” he said.

Moisture levels are as important as grain temperature. A calibrated, accurate moisture meter allows growers to observe moisture content in stored grains.

“In general, corn should be stored at 15% moisture,” Gabriel said. “Soybeans and small grains should be stored at 11% to 13% moisture depending on length of storage and the requirements of the buyer.”

Cleanliness, temperature and moisture content are essential for maximizing the value of small grains.

Wear dust masks while cleaning and ear protection as needed. The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) can provide growers with information about grants that may cover the cost of safety gear and procedure implementation.

“Generally, never enter a bin,” Gabriel cautioned. “If you do, always have a way to lock out electrical equipment so no one can turn it on while anyone is near equipment and be in communication with someone outside the bin.”

Gabriel encourages grains growers watch a six-minute safety video produced by the National Grain and Feed Foundation. View the video at