In stored grain: Beware onset of bin-fluenza

The onset of cold, wet weather leaves many people vulnerable to an attack of influenza. Those conditions can also lead to the deterioration of grain in storage bins — a condition a University of Missouri agricultural engineer calls “bin-fluenza.”

“When winter weather strikes, both people and bins of grain stand an increased chance of getting sick,” said MU Extension associate professor Bill Casady. “But there are preventative measures that can help.”

The flu is brought on by a microscopic virus, “but it takes a combination of factors to bring you down,” he said. The bug must find an entry point and encounter certain conditions to thrive within its human host.

“Bin-fluenza can also be brought on when winter weather strikes,” Casady said. “Storage molds or fungi are always present in small amounts, but it takes a combination of factors for a bin to come down with something.”

For the organisms to grow and reproduce, the bin temperatures must be within a specific range, and there must be enough moisture to support the new growth, he said. “It's more likely that fungi will get a good foothold if the host — in this case the grain mass — is weakened by extreme and imbalanced temperatures.”

Just as a healthy human can contact the flu, “bin-fluenza can strike even in bins filled with thoroughly and uniformly dried grain, and it can strike bins with grain that has been dried even a point or two below what we consider safe storage conditions,” Casady said.

As temperatures plummet, moisture in a bin can migrate from an area of relatively dry grain to another location within the grain mass, especially if the grain mass is still at early fall temperatures. “The moving moisture can become concentrated in another location, and suddenly storage fungi go to work,” he said. “The growing fungi create their own heat and become self-sustaining, providing an environment for other opportunistic storage pests, including insects.”

To protect bins as the weather changes, Casady suggested taking advantage of colder outside temperatures to cool the grain mass to temperatures just above freezing. This helps to keep grain temperatures uniform throughout the bin, preventing moisture migration and also extending the storage life of the grain mass.

Like influenza, bin-fluenza can be fought by controlling temperature and moisture and “above all, using good sanitation practices,” he said. “The effectiveness of aeration to cool the grain mass and reduce mold growth is improved by good sanitation and loading practices earlier in the fall. A clean bin properly loaded with clean grain is the foundation for successful long-term grain storage.”

Casady said the SLAM strategy — sanitation, loading, aeration, monitoring — provides the best protection against bin-fluenza.

Forrest Rose is an Extension and ag information specialist with the University of Missouri.

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