Follow storage guidelines to protect your pulses

Combining pulses when they’re tough reduces damage to seeds, but they then need to be dried down

Pulse crops retain their quality and maximize their marketability when a few grain storage guidelines are followed. Downgrading of pulses can occur when cracked seed coats or split seeds are present in the sample, or if a significant amount of seeds are heated or have a musty odour.

The Canadian Grain Commission’s dry seed moisture content standards for safe storage and grading are 16 per cent or less for peas, 13 per cent or less for red lentils, 14 per cent or less for green lentils, and 16 per cent or less for fababeans.

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Monitoring stored pulses begins shortly after harvest with spoilage risk increasing if the crop was harvested after wet weather or an early frost.

Since pulses are combined at tough or higher seed moisture content to prevent mechanical damage to the seeds, aeration is used to bring the crop down to dry. Joy Agnew of the Prairie Agriculture Machinery Institute (PAMI) claims that since pulses are harvested early, the weather generally co-operates for effective aeration and natural air drying — additional heat with a supplemental heating system is usually not required.

Green seeds, dockage, and foreign material hold moisture and should therefore be cleaned out of the sample prior to storage to avoid heating in the bin. They can also reduce aeration airflow.

Generally pulse crop seeds continue to respire or breathe after being harvested, causing the crop to go through a ‘sweat’ period for the initial six weeks in storage. This sweating can raise the grain temperature and cause moisture to accumulate, producing favourable conditions for mould growth. Using aeration bins is the most effective method to control this situation.

Whether to use aeration, natural air drying without additional heat, or a heated air-drying system depends on the grain’s moisture content. If the grain is somewhat tough at one to two per cent moisture content above dry, aeration is usually sufficient. However, if the grain must come down three to four per cent in moisture content, a NAD system removes this extra moisture. While aeration can be completed in a few days, drying can take a couple of weeks.

If only aeration is required, PAMI advises producers to turn aeration fans on as soon as the ducts are covered with grain and run them continuously until the average temperature of the grain is at 15 C or less. Although fans can be turned off during rainstorms, PAMI suggests there is very little moisture movement between grain and air at low airflow rates — 0.1 to 0.2 cubic foot per minute (cfm) per bushel, which is the rate associated with aeration.

Producers who must actually dry their grain by three to four per cent moisture content require a natural air-drying (NAD) system, also referred to as near-ambient drying. Ambient air is the air outside the bin which has the capacity to remove moisture from grain. NAD requires an increased fan size in horsepower that provides a higher airflow rate of one to two cfm/bushel. For NAD, fans should be run only during the day when the air has the best capacity to dry until the grain is about one per cent above the safe-to-store moisture content. Then continuous night and day air can be used to finish drying the grain down one more moisture content point and cool the grain for safe long-term storage.

Later in the fall as air temperatures drop, NAD systems lose their effectiveness for drying grain. Cool air can only hold a small amount of moisture and moisture movement from grain to air is very slow at temperatures less than 10 C. So adding supplemental heat to the inlet air of a NAD system increases the air’s ability to hold moisture and dry the grain. PAMI suggests limiting the air temperature increase to 10 C and use a Canadian Standards Association-certified heating system (not a homemade system). Supplemental heat can be used when the ambient air temperature is between -5 C and 15 C. The maximum air temperature after the heater should be between 5 C and 25 C.

The disadvantage of using supplemental heat is that it increases the possibility of overdrying the grain, especially at the bottom of the bin. PAMI suggests running fans with a heater until the bin is “average” dry, mix the grain, and then cool with aeration.

If artificial heat grain drying is required, air temperatures should not exceed 45 C for peas and lentils to prevent seed germination problems or to prevent quality losses due to hardening or cracking of seed intended for food use. Additionally, the sample should not be dried more than four to five percentage points per pass through the dryer. For feed pea, dryer temperatures up to 70 C can be applied.

To get grain into the safe storage zone, it should be brought down to 15 C or lower. Regularly check the temperature of the grain in the bin. If an aeration system is not available, turning grain outside the bin, or coring, is an alternative to aerating it in the bin when the ambient air temperature falls below 15 C. Turn the grain every two to four weeks until the grain temperature reaches 15 C or less by removing about one-third of the grain from the bin, allowing it to cool overnight, and then putting it back.

When moving pulse crops, grain augers operated full and at low speeds reduce seed coat cracking and seed splitting. Pulse seeds at 12 per cent moisture content and lower are more susceptible to chipping and peeling when handled.

Cool, dry storage conditions allow the crop to be stored for a lengthy period, but if seed moisture content or temperature rises, storage time lessens. The accompanying table indicates the number of weeks recommended for safe storage of field peas at various grain moisture contents and storage temperatures. Other pulse crops are similar.

Neil Whatley is a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. This article originally appeared in the Aug. 28, 2017 issue of the Alberta Farmer Express.

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