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Dairy Focus: Bagging Wet Corn

J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist
Corn Storage Bags Corn Storage Bags
Storing wet corn in silo bags is a viable option for short-term storage.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Avoiding high-moisture corn is not an option in 2009 for many producers.

We are at a time when harvest should be nearly complete. Not just in our region, but also in the entire Corn Belt, nearly all are struggling with a delayed and wet harvest. Therefore, whether your corn is going to feed or the market, the major challenge is storage.

But not only moisture will challenge the storage and receiving of grain; substantial mold proliferation has farmers and elevator managers alike very concerned.

Because of this year’s harvest conditions, many producers are looking for either temporary storage (for later drying) or additional storage to accommodate wet corn (for feeding) because they do not want to plug a huge bin with wet corn. As a result, two very common questions have arisen: “Can I put it in the bag” and “How long will it keep?"

Using the long white storage or silo bags is a very viable alternative for short-term storage. We have used them for years to store wet forage, and farmers have adapted then for various other commodity feeds, wet and dry. Besides, you can put the bags just about anywhere.

Today, dealing with wet shelled corn, the biggest advantage may be the bags’ size. In an era of gigantic bins, you do not want the risk of adding wet grain. Moreover, while drying sounds like a logical answer, drier capacity and availability of fuel have a “choke hold” on the harvest of our crops. Therefore, producers are looking for temporary storage options.

The silo bag makes sense. However, storage recommendations are for crops at the appropriate moisture. The reality is producers will look at leaving corn in the field until spring or go after it now.

So if you are going to harvest wet corn and you are going to store it wet, how long can you store it? That is where our colder winter temperatures may be an advantage. Compared with bins or large piles, the bag is of small diameter (9 to 12 feet). Once in the bag, wet corn will be refrigerated more quickly by our winter temperatures. Once cooled, this natural refrigeration with slow spoilage.

I have seen examples of producers using bags for storage of 24 percent corn last year, and that worked fine. However, this year, where moistures exceed 32 percent, that could be a problem. In general, corn stored in oxygen-limiting silos, such as the bag, should have an ideal crop moisture at 28 percent to 32 percent, with a minimum of 24 percent and a maximum of 35 percent.

High-moisture corn above 32 percent kernel moisture may result in difficulty in unloading from more typical silos. The bag is better suited to handle the corn.

For corn above 40 percent moisture, no storage device will offset an undesirable fermentation that will take place and yeast that will predominate, along with high ethanol levels, resulting in poor animal acceptance. Nor will any storage device hold a product to extend a producer’s marketing strategy.

So what about whole versus processed corn?

  • Take care not to overprocess wet corn. Overprocessing easily can lead to excessively fine high-moisture corn that may result in off-feed problems and an increased incidence of rumen acidosis.
  • Keep in mind that high-moisture corn ferments more slowly and less extensively than corn silage in the silo bag. However, when we generally would recommend adding lactic acid bacterial inoculants to high-moisture corn, ensiling the high-moisture corn during cold weather and after several days of freezing temperatures will severely reduce the population of naturally occurring lactic acid-producing bacteria.
  • Corn with significant mold on the kernels and cob is best harvested and stored as shelled corn (rather than ear corn). Some producers have taken moldy corn and dried it down to storable moisture while screening off the fines. Where drying is not an option, propionic acid is recommended. The propionic acid will not lessen any problems from the mold, but it likely will prevent mold problems from getting worse.
  • When considering the application of propionic acid, a number of products are available, so read the label and be sure to base rates on pounds of actual propionic acid. Many of the propionic products offered today are buffered and require lesser rates of application.
  • The propionic acid must be placed onto the grain. Applying the acid by spraying onto the corn as it arrives at the blower throat often has resulted in less than satisfactory results because of excessive volatilization loss. Placing the acid on the corn as it is augured to the blower is the preferred method of mixing the acid so that all the corn is treated uniformly.
  • Be careful to plan for an ample removal rate of corn from the silo. A removal rate of 3 to 4 inches per day may be required to prevent heating during feeding in warmer weather.
  • If high-moisture corn is stored in bags, locate bags away from trees and long grass, and keep snow removed from around the bags. For best results, remove bagged high-moisture corn during cooler months. Punctures, rips or tears in the summer can cause rapid and expensive spoilage.

For livestock producers storing the corn for feed, the corn should be processed prior to bagging to exclude oxygen and stimulate fermentation.

One disadvantage of high-moisture corn is its variability. Dry-matter content can change, grain particle size can shift due to moisture and variety differences, kernel hardness can vary, and secondary heating and molding in storage can be a problem in the late fall and during the summer. Matching the recommended feeding rates (4 to 6 inches off of the face or surface in the summer and 2 to 3 inches during the winter) also can be a challenge.

The best advice may be to use common sense. We do not know what “normal” corn growing, harvesting and storage conditions are anymore. Unfortunately, little research has been done in this area in recent years because this is applied research for which little, if any, financial support is available. So monitor those bags weekly and carry some tape to repair all tears. Once critters find and tear the bag, spoilage will accelerate and losses due to spoilage will be magnified immensely.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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