When increasing numbers of north Queensland’s traditional sugarcane growers started planting soybeans in their fallows, Brock Dembowski noticed a trend. Silos began popping up on farms and he was fielding questions about storage options.
Based with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) in Townsville, Mr Dembowski, the Burdekin Coastal Farming Systems team extension officer, knew that for many of these growers it would represent their first foray into on-farm storage.
The need for more information also coincided with a DAF-organised tour to Toowoomba. “We saw storage there and some were interested in what it could mean for them. So, we decided to organise a series of storage workshops in the Burdekin.”
With DAF storage specialist Philip Burrill, the first series of workshops was held in late 2019. A third series has just been held.
“It is one of the best things that we have done,” Mr Dembowski says. “Some growers had little snippets of knowledge, but not much. Philip addressed 30 growers in the first session and, of those, only three had dealt with silos.”
Mr Burrill, a post-harvest grain protection senior development agronomist, says the first question from many growers was: “Do I need storage?”
“I took it back to basics and explained the logistical and marketing benefits that storage brings and outlined what features to look for and how to design the storage facility,” he says.
He says growers were also concerned about the region’s coastal humidity and heat. “North Queensland’s conditions would be bliss to our six major storage pests, posing an extra challenge. But good storage can happen with the right equipment and know-how.”
He explained the key features to think about when considering storage. First, aeration is important. This is both to cool grain and to briefly hold grain harvested at a higher moisture content, an important factor in an environment often hit with wet weather.
“Even in high humidity, fans can be run strategically. With that said, it is a lot easier to purchase automatic controllers. They will cut out when the humidity is too high and come on when outside air is best to use.
“Growers are storing a high-value crop in a high-risk coastal area. Controllers cost about $10,000 but will control fans on multiple silos. They are simple to use, which is important because it is not hard to make mistakes in coastal areas.”
Mr Burrill says good-quality, sealable silos are also a must. “They should be sealable to Australian Standard AS2628. This is important because to successfully fumigate storage pest insects with phosphine, the silo needs to be sealed gas-tight during fumigation. It is also important to retain the quality of the stored grain, particularly if it is going to a human consumption market.”
Planning to regularly monitor silos is also key. “Growers need to climb up the ladder to the top of the silo once a month and check for pests, using a probe trap. At the bottom, growers need to drop some grain into a bucket and sieve for pests.”
He also recommends an extra tool – a temperature probe. “This is extra handy in coastal areas. Temperature can tell an important story. Firstly, it lets you know if your aeration system is doing a good job of cooling grain to help maintain grain quality. Secondly, if you find insect pests and the grain is cool, say under 20°C, the pests are ‘on hold’ – not feeding or breeding rapidly. Urgent fumigation action may be delayed for a few weeks.”
Mr Burrill also explained to growers where to establish storage. “I encourage growers to think about this; don’t just dump silos anywhere. Storage facilities need good site drainage, all-weather access, power supply and maybe underground power for safety, room for B-doubles and augers, and room to grow in a few years’ or a decade’s time.
“When growers can confidently hold grain for a while, they can make marketing and logistical decisions to their advantage. Good storage gives that flexibility.”
More information: Brock Dembowski, 0467 819 592, firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew McDonald, 0438 196 917, email@example.com; Philip Burrill, 0427 696 500, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: Soybean supply sweetened by coastal plantings.