Managing fusarium in wheat in harvest and storage

Drying wheat may make sense and there are lessons to be learned from drying soys in 2018

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Fusarium will likely be an issue in this year’s wheat crop with wet and cool conditions turning wet, warm and humid around grain fill.

However, there are ways to manage the crop to protect quality against infection, harvest and storage problems.

Why it matters: With proper handling techniques, farmers can minimize quality issues and get the most out of their wheat and soybeans.

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James Dyck, engineering specialist, crop systems and environment with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs says that early harvest is the best first step.

“Don’t be afraid of taking it off the field if it is physiologically mature,” he says. “Yes, you may have to dry it and I know that’s a scary word for wheat.”

Profit margins are often lower on wheat than other crops, so farms prefer not to dry wheat any more than necessary. Drying the more-delicate wheat is also trickier than drying corn due to potential damage from high heat.

However, Dyck says that drying the last moisture out of the crop is preferable to losing its higher value to a lower grade. Fusarium-infected wheat is often downgraded to feed level and even then, it usually has to be blended.

Turning up the fan speed at harvest can also help to send the light, infected kernels out the back of the combine so they don’t end up in the harvest grain, although some of the good grain can be lost in the process.

Farmers have to decide if the moisture level of the wheat means it needs to be heat dried or if it can be naturally dried through running a fan on a bin.

Lessons from the 2018 soybean crop

The way the 2018 soybean crop had to be managed can provide lessons for the 2019 wheat crop as far as natural drying.

The late 2018 soybean harvest saw farmers harvesting soybeans with highly variable moisture. Some farmers harvested at higher moisture than they would like, just to get the crop off. As well, the wet fall meant that the soybeans in the field varied quite a bit in moisture levels even through the same day.

Soybeans are also susceptible to damage, through cracking, when dried under heat, so if the last of the moisture can be removed with natural ventilation then that’s often a better choice. Cracking is especially an issue with identity preserved soybeans headed for human consumption.

Dyck says natural ventilation “is pretty straightforward, but it takes some time.” It’s often a race between the slow drying of the crop and the onset of disease caused by the moisture in the crop.

Natural ventilation works when fans are run when the relative humidity is less than 70 per cent. At that point the air coming from the outside is dry enough to do some good and the crop will stabilize at the moisture level desired, which is 13 to 14 per cent for soybeans.

More farmers last year put some heat in front of their fan inlets to get a bit of warmth and dryer air into the soybean bins. Some used rented propane or electrical heaters, says Dyck, who got numerous calls from farmers asking about drying soybeans naturally. Warming up the incoming air by 5 C or 6 C can help get the relative humidity below 70 per cent.

Some farmers also dialed back the temperature on their dryers to around 80 F, or 27 C, to avoid damaging soybeans. Dyck says to make sure to check with grain buyers before trying anything significant that might damage the crop.

Don’t fill naturally ventilated bins for drying too full as there needs to be room for air flow, says Dyck. Aim for two cubic feet per minute of air per bushel of grain.

Once the crop is in the bin at the desired moisture, don’t forget about it, says Dyck. Keep an eye on temperature cables if installed in bins, start up fans each week and make sure the grain smells clean.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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