As September crept up on us, and children went back, or even started school, an early harvest was nearing the end. All of our cereals have been cut, threshed, cleaned, dried where necessary, and either sold or conveyed into storage. Meanwhile, work is already underway in planting next years crops.
Storing grain is a key part of harvest. As a country we are a net exporter of wheat - we grow more than we need and sell the surplus abroad. However as it is harvested over the course of a couple of months, it needs to be stored and preserved to use as it is required.
There are a number of options in storage of cereal grains. Some farms have on-site storage facilities. Others sell their commodity straight out of the combine and leave the hassle of storing it to the buyer. Another option, and one that is favoured by French farmers, is to belong to a cooperative, and send it off to a central storage facility, generally state of the art, and managed by people who monitor it and keep it at a desirable quality. However it is stored though, it absolutely has to be done properly.
Moisture is the biggest primary factor. Along with having a clean and dry storage facility. A general rule of thumb is to store cereal grains at 14% - 14.5% moisture if it is to be stored for less than 9 months. If there is a possibility it may be stored for longer it is safer to get it down to 13% - 13.5%. As harvest commenced this year we were combining the wheat at around 14%, so it could go straight into storage. However after a spell of rain, the moisture crept up. If it is harvested at 16%, the onus is on the farmer or facility to get it dried before going into storage. This involves energy, time, and of course expense. If it doesn't meet the demands of the buyer, you can bet there will be a financial penalty!
Once the dried commodity is in store, it has to be protected from all manner of potentially disastrous threats. Rodents, diseases, temperature and microscopic insects and pests all have the ability to diminish quality and seriously affect the value. A secure, well maintained store keeps rodents at bay, and insect traps are deployed to determine the presence of any harmful mites, which can be treated. Many potential problems stem from grain temperature though. We try to get the temperature within the heap of grain down to below 15°C to reduce the risk of insect and mite populations developing. As the temperatures outside fall going into Winter, condensation becomes a risk, and that brings with it moisture. A damp and dark grain store is a perfect environment for fungi to spawn.