This year’s projected record corn crop has many farmers looking for alternatives to traditional storage bins and silos, which are expected to fill up quickly now that the harvest is underway.
One of the most popular options, commonly known as a “bag silo,” is a collapsible, soft-sided grain storage unit that resembles a long, low Quonset hut.
Klein Ileleji, a grain post-harvest technology expert at Purdue University, said potential users should be aware that the bags, which can measure up to 12 feet in diameter and 328 feet in length, require careful site preparation, regular monitoring for moisture content and temperature, and special tools for loading and unloading.
“It’s not as simple as opening one end and shoveling in the corn,” Ileleji said.
To assist growers who might be using or considering bag silos for the first time, Ileleji compiled a list of tips:
• Position the bags away from tree and fence lines. Hungry animals are a major threat to bag silos and like to lurk in areas with convenient cover, Ileleji said. A hungry, determined deer, raccoon or dog can easily tear through a bag silo’s plastic cover in search of food. Putting the bags in an open space, away from the animals’ favorite hiding places, will help keep away pesky animal intruders.
• Keep the site clean. Critters looking for a free meal will be attracted by grain littering the ground around bag silos. Ileleji advises cleaning up any spills immediately after loading the bags and cutting back any brush to create a clear perimeter around the bags.
• Make sure the site is dry and well drained. Moisture is the mortal enemy of stored crops, and although bag silos are hermetically sealed, they can leak, especially if there are tears or punctures in the flexible plastic lining or if the bags are placed on wet ground. Ileleji suggests placing the bags on slabs of concrete or asphalt to allow better drainage and checking frequently for damage to the plastic cover. Many manufacturers offer special adhesive tape to patch holes.
• Make sure the crop is dry before storing it. The key to using bag silos effectively, Ileleji said, is to get the grain as dry as possible before storing it. He recommends drying the grain to a moisture content level of 15% or lower before bagging.
• Check the stored crop regularly for moisture content. Once the crop is stored, it is important to check for moisture regularly, especially if the weather turns rainy or snowy or there are long warm spells. Bag silos are not ventilated, which means there is no way to circulate air inside to prevent moisture buildup in the grain. The only way to test the grain for moisture once it is in the bag is to put a small hole in the cover, extract the sample, then reseal the bag using adhesive tape. The special adhesive tape from the manufacturers work best, Ileleji said.
• Shop around. Bag silos aren’t cheap, Ileleji said. Start-up costs, including purchasing the bags, sealing kit and pneumatic pumps and vacuums for loading and unloading, can be as high as $40,000, he said. Farmers could save money by renting the pneumatic equipment. Ileleji said livestock producers often use bag silos for storing feed grain and silage and could be willing to rent out their equipment when it’s not in use.