While the weeks and months leading up to harvest time are important for realizing a crop, the weeks and months immediately after matter just as much.
This is especially true when it comes to two crops that have a long shelf life: hay and grains.
Like the inside of a building, one of the biggest threats to both products of the field is moisture.
Too much or too little moisture can cause hay and grain to spoil in some fashion, resulting in a loss of both quality and quantity.
For farmers planning to sell their crops immediately or store them for future use, keeping close tabs on moisture levels of harvested and processed hay and grains matters greatly.
In this article, we'll look at:
From the day their seeds are sown to when their final products are sold or used, hay and grain have a close relationship with moisture.
The most obvious reason – moisture helps both grow and thrive in the field. However, once harvested, moisture presence and the way both crops interact with it take a different turn.
With hay, moisture presence is a double-edged sword. On one hand, an appropriate amount of moisture (hay 18 - 22% or less/Straw less than 20%) helps preserve the nutritional value of the crop for livestock. At the same time, too much moisture lends itself to supporting different organisms – bacteria and mold. Not only do both ruin a bale of hay, but they also have the potential to cause more damage. In extreme cases, the heat generated by microbial activity can be enough to start a fire that can spread quickly through nearby bales.
The story is much the same with grain, however, it does get a bit more complex.
Like hay, grain needs an appropriate amount of moisture to maintain nutritional values. And at the same time, too much moisture creates a welcoming environment for bacteria and mold.
The difference in grain's relationship with moisture is two-fold:
|Grain Type||Acceptable Moisture Level|
15% or less
|Oats||12.5% or less|
|Canola||10% or less|
8% or less
12% or less
14% or less
9% or less
12% or less
20% or less
14% or less
12% or less
Regardless of the grain or hay, preserving and protecting both harvest crops is largely dependent on finding and maintaining a healthy balance with moisture. And that requires regularly checking moisture levels and making adjustments as need be.
Like inspecting the inside of a building, testing both hay and grains for moisture is a straightforward process. And there are several ways to conduct tests.
The most efficient method that provides immediate results is using digital moisture meters made for testing hay and grains.
Let's dig into how to complete moisture meter tests on both harvests.
The same way a home inspector uses their moisture meter with an extension probe on walls and other materials, the digital probes of a hay bale moisture meter are used to test hay bales from the inside.
After selecting several hay bales to test and turning on your hay moisture meter, it's as simple as:
Remember: harvest hay should have a moisture content reading of no more than 22%.
Just as there's no one way to grow a crop, there's no singular way to keep tabs on moisture levels within a harvest. Other moisture testing methods commonly used to check hay and grain for moisture include:
1. Oven Drying Method – which involves drying a sample of the grain or hay in an oven at a specific temperature for a set period of time. You'll need to record both the pre-dry and post-dry weights of the same and calculate the percent difference between both to determine moisture content. The same type of test can be completed using a microwave, too.
Hay bales come in a few different shapes and sizes, and this does affect the moisture content within, especially if left unprotected from the elements.
Again, grain is similar to hay, but there are some differences.
In an identical process to testing hay, you can measure moisture in grain by using a moisture meter with an extension probe.
However, the best way to test grain for moisture is with the ground grain method.
Instead of measuring the moisture directly in whole grain kernels, this method involves grinding the grain into a crumb and running an electrical current through it to measure resistances. As water is conductive, the less resistance the more moist the grain is.
No matter which method you use, your grain meter will need to be calibrated to the type of grain it's testing and it's best to test several samples to get a broader representation of moisture content.
No matter which grain or hay you're dealing with, the most effective way to control and manage moisture levels is by being informed. By that we mean regularly testing both harvested crops.
Simply put – moisture testing is not a "one and done" ordeal when it comes to hay and grain. A variety of environmental factors can change moisture presence within each harvest, especially as the crop is stored for long periods of time. Even indoors, changes in ambient conditions, such as relative humidity, have a direct impact on, say, a bale of hay.
Left unchecked, excessive moisture can lead to a host of problems for a harvested crop, making months of hard work and patience go to waste.
No matter how many bales of hay or bushels of grain you harvest at the end of a long growing season, there's nothing like seeing your hard work quite literally pay off. The last thing a farmer wants is to see a crop lost.
With the right moisture meters, keeping track of moisture presence within hay and grains is simple, helping you take one more important step toward making every harvest one that pays dividends.