Improving the profitability & sustainability of Esperance port zone grain growers

Bagging Grain Profits - Technical assessments of the use of grainbags in the WA supply chain

Project Timelines:   November 2017 – April 2020

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Barley stored in bags near Esperance, 2017 harvest, awaiting delivery to CBH

Key Points

  • Grain silo bags have the proven advantage of providing a cheap, short-term storage solution to enable rapid harvest and avoid yield loss and quality degradation, especially in high yielding years.
  • Like any grain storage system, bags need to be used properly with storage guidelines adhered to.
  • A two-year project on the south east coast of Western Australia found that export barley stored within guidelines in the short term showed negligible decline in germination energy or malting quality.

Silo bags provide efficient and effective storage for cereals, particularly in high-production regions that regularly experience quality damage and yield loss due to delays in harvest and exposure to inclement weather. However, there have been concerns expressed by maltsters as to the impact that silo bags are perceived to have on the quality of barley (particularly germination).

Growers in the Esperance port zone region have found that the seasonal benefits of silo bags very much outweigh the risks. Post-harvest seed cleaning and grading on farm as well as capturing freight cost and grain marketing peaks have been additional reasons for continuing to use them with few issues when managed well. 

In southern coastal WA, mainly wheat, barley, and more recently some pulses have been stored for on average up to three months in bags. As growers have started planting more legumes, these have also been stored successfully sometimes up to twelve months in more recent years. By constant monitoring and using good quality bags, experienced silo bag users have reported minimal issues.

A project undertaken by the South East Premium Wheat Growers’ Association (SEPWA), Bagging Grain Profits – Technical Assessment of the use of Silo Bags in the WA Supply Chain, set out to test the quality of grain stored in bags over time.

The project monitored storage conditions (namely temperature and humidity) in the bags over time, as well as the grain moisture, germination, malting (through micro-malting) and brewing (pilot brewing) quality of barley that was stored in bags. 

Temperature of the grain within the silo bags was largely unaffected by diurnal fluctuations in ambient temperature (Figure 1), with temperatures inside the silo bags trending towards the average ambient temperature over time. As expected, temperature fluctuations were larger at shallower depths within the bag. Grain moisture (Figure 2), fluctuated was largely unchanged over time or by sampling depth. Germination (%) was unaffected by silo bag storage, with grain samples taken prior to and after silo bag storage showing almost 100% germination (Table 1).

Malt quality on barley correctly stored in bags for up to 2 months was also unaffected. Farmer practice on the south coast of WA is to store the barley for only a few months prior to delivering to CBH for export. The barley is tested as it goes into the bags and then again on delivery. Barley that is destined for export markets needs to meet the minimum 98% germination standard

In March 2020, Barley Australia updated guidelines for malt barley stored in Silo bags to raise concerns of using them for long periods, but as a short-term option they could be used to assist with harvest logistics.

Growers need to be aware that maintaining end use quality for malting barley is paramount to retaining its germination capacity in the malthouse and bags still pose a higher risk than other storage options. The process of making malt is dependent on live barley grain capable of vigorous germination. Therefore, when storing barley for malt purposes, it is vital that optimum storage conditions are adhered to.

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