September 5, 2001

Kentucky's grain producers will soon begin harvesting corn and many are fine-tuning their equipment now to reduce mechanical delays, improve performance, assure a safe harvest, and maintain grain quality once they start combining the crop.

A few hours spent with combines, augers/ conveyors, dryers and storage bins will usually have a considerable payback in the form of reduced elevator discounts when corn is delivered for sale, said Sam McNeill, University of Kentucky Extension agriculture engineer.

All equipment that will contact corn as it moves from the field to the storage bin should be thoroughly cleaned prior to harvest to minimize mold and insect infestations and protect the purity of individual corn varieties or seed lots. This is especially true for genetically enhanced crops, which should be harvested after non-genetically altered crops to avoid possible mixing. All combines, hauling vehicles, conveyors, drying equipment and storage bins should be thoroughly cleaned before the rush of harvest begins.

Ideal corn varieties are disease and insect free at harvest, have high yield potential, high test weight, a sound disease resistance package, strong stalks to avoid lodging problems, and rapid dry-down in the field after maturity. Less than ideal conditions requires more management skill to avoid potential problems after harvest.

Combines should be serviced and adjusted according to the owner's manual prior to harvest and checked during harvest to reduce machine losses and assure minimum mechanical damage to corn kernels, McNeill said.

Recall the number of volunteer corn sprouts that appeared a few weeks after harvest last year in many fields in Kentucky. And remember that a three-quarter pound ear (or equivalent weight) in a 1/100-acre area, or 2 loose kernels per square foot, left in the field after harvest are equal to one bushel per acre loss, he said.

Dryer maintenance will help producers get the most out of the dollars spent on gas and electricity, reduce equipment downtime, and avoid over-drying grain (which can cost more than drying fuel even with corn at $2 per bushel). Clean out grain dryers, perform a routine maintenance check on sensors and controls, and test fire the unit(s) prior to the beginning of harvest to assure efficient operation.

Thoroughly clean out all grain bins, especially caked grain that will contaminate the new crop. Sweep down walls, ladders, ledges and floors inside grain bins to remove old grain and fine material where insects and mold spores can lie in waiting to invade the incoming crop.

Provide dust protection masks so workers will avoid potential breathing problems when cleaning bins and equipment. Use a wet/dry vacuum to completely remove dust and small grain particles from all conveyors and other areas around the facility. After thoroughly cleaning bins, mow the vegetation around them to eliminate areas where rodents and insects like to live and multiply.

After cleaning and mowing, spray a residual pesticide inside the bin to the point of runoff for additional protection from insects. Be sure to read pesticide labels carefully for any specific delays prior to filling the bin or other restrictions after application. It is always a good idea to fumigate the space under the false floor of grain bins to eradicate that area of insect populations.

Don't confuse residual pesticides with fumigants, which have no carry over effect, and keep in mind that fumigants are toxic to humans and other warm-blooded animals and therefore are Restricted Use pesticides.

Treatment of grain soon after harvest often determines the storability of a crop and can strongly influence its quality and value when delivered to the end-user -- which may be several weeks, months or even years after harvest. Thus, it behooves corn farmers to keep equipment in good operating condition and to implement sound grain harvest, drying and storage practices to maintain the U.S. reputation of being a reliable supplier of good quality corn to the global market, McNeill said.

Successful post-harvest grain processing with on-farm facilities requires a thorough understanding of the factors that influence grain quality, he said. On-farm drying and storage equipment can help producers and farm managers control elevator discounts and improve economic returns to their operation. The use of such facilities requires operators to maintain high grain quality from the field to the point of sale to capture the highest market price.


Sam McNeill, (270) 365-7541