In order to kill grain pests at all stages of their life cycle (egg, larva, pupa, adult), phosphine gas needs to reach, and be maintained at, a concentration possible only in a gas-tight storage.
- To control insects at all life stages the only option is to fumigate in a gas-tight storage.
- Cool grain temperatures require a longer fumigation period.
- Aeration fans fitted on gas-tight silos provide a number of benefits including a shorter ventilation period following a fumigation.
The total time required for effective fumigation ranges from 10–17 days, accounting for the minimum exposure period, ventilation and withholding period. This highlights the importance of monitoring grain regularly and at least 17 days before out-loading to allow sufficient time to fumigate if required.
Rates for success
When determining how much phosphine to apply, it is important to treat the entire storage volume, regardless of how much grain is contained inside. For example, a 100 tonne silo full of grain requires 200 phosphine tablets. If that same 100t silo is only half full of grain, it still requires 200 phosphine tablets for effective fumigation.
Handle with care
Phosphine is a highly toxic gas with potentially fatal consequences if handled incorrectly. As a minimum requirement, the label directs the use of cotton overalls buttoned at the neck and wrist, eye protection, elbow-length PVC gloves and a breathing respirator with combined dust and gas cartridge.
Where to apply
Arrange the tablets where as much surface area as possible is exposed to air, so the gas can disperse freely throughout the grain stack. Spread phosphine tablets evenly across trays before hanging them in the head space or placing them level on the grain surface inside a gas-tight, sealed silo. Hang bag chains in the head space or roll out flat on the top of the grain so air can freely pass around them as the gas dissipates. Bottom-application facilities must have a passive or active air circulation system to carry the phosphine gas out of the confined space as it evolves. Without air movement, phosphine can reach explosive levels if left to evolve in a confined space.
Time to kill
To control pests at all life stages and prevent insect resistance, phosphine gas concentration needs to reach 300 parts per million (ppm) for seven days (when grain is above 25°C) or 200ppm for 10 days (between 15–25°C). Insect activity is slower in cooler grain temperatures so require longer exposer to the gas to receive a lethal dose.
Table 1 – Application rates for phosphine tablets in storage
Following fumigation, ventilate silos so grain can be delivered free from harmful gas residues. With tablet residue or bag chains removed, leave silos open for no less than five days, or no less than one day with aeration fans
operating. The final step is to hold grain for a further two days after ventilation before using for human consumption or stockfeed
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CAUTION: RESEARCH ON UNREGISTERED PESTICIDE USE
Any research with unregistered pesticides or of unregistered products reported in this document does not constitute a recommendation for that particular use by the authors or the authors’ organisations. All pesticide applications must accord with the currently registered label for that particular pesticide, crop, pest and region. Copyright © All material published in this Fact Sheet is copyright protected and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission from the GRDC.
For more than 40 years Phosphine has been a safe and reliable means of controlling grain storage insects. Over 80% of stored grain is treated with this chemical but resistance to Phosphine is building amongst insect populations. So when a previously resistant strain of Rust Red Flour Beetle in Western Australia was eradicated by Phosphine it was a remarkable result.
The tolerance for live pests in grain sold off farm is nil. With growers increasing the amount of grain stored on farm, an integrated approach to pest control is crucial.
Caution: Research on unregistered pesticide use Any research with unregistered pesticides or of unregistered products reported in this document does not constitute a recommendation for that particular use by the authors or the authors’ organisations. All pesticide applications must accord with the currently registered label for that particular pesticide, crop, pest and region.
- Effective grain hygiene and aeration cooling can overcome 85 per cent of pest problems.
- When fumigation is needed it must be carried out in pressuretested, sealed silos.
- Monitor stored grain monthly for moisture, temperature and pests.
Prevention is better than cure
The combination of meticulous grain hygiene plus well-managed aeration cooling generally overcomes 85 per cent of storage pest problems. For grain storage, three key factors provide significant gains for both grain storage pest control and grain quality – hygiene, aeration cooling and correct fumigation.
The first grain harvested is often at the greatest risk of early insect infestation due to contamination. One on-farm test found more than 1000 lesser grain borers in the first 40 litres of wheat passing through the harvester. Remove grain residues from empty storages and grain handling equipment, including harvesters, field bins, augers and silos to ensure an uncontaminated start for new-season grain. Clean equipment by blowing or hosing out residues and dust and then consider a structural treatment (see Table 2, page 3). Remove and discard any grain left in hoppers and bags from the grain storage site so it doesn’t provide a habitat for pests during the off season.
Freshly-harvested grain usually has a temperature around 30°C, which is an ideal breeding temperature for storage pests (see Table 1, page 2). Studies have shown that rust-red flour beetles stop breeding at 20°C, lesser grain borer at 18°C and below 15°C all storage pests stop breeding. Aim for grain temperatures of less than 23°C during summer and less than 15°C during winter. When placing grain into storage, run aeration fans continuously for the first 2-3 days to push the first cooling front through the grain and to create uniform moisture conditions. Then run the fans during the coolest 9-12 hours per day for the next 3-5 days. This will push a second cooling front through the grain bulk. Aeration cooling generally only requires air-flow rates of 2-4 litres per second per tonne. Finally the grain requires approximately 50 hours of appropriate quality air each fortnight during storage. Use an aeration controller that will perform the cooling process at the right time and continue to aerate the grain selecting the coolest air to run fans. An effective aeration controller will also ensure fans don’t operate when the relative humidity is higher than 85 per cent, which can re-wet and damage grain if operated for extended periods.
Fumigation with phosphine is a common component of many integrated pest control strategies. Taking fumigation shortcuts may kill enough adult insects in grain so it passes delivery standards, but the repercussions of such practices are detrimental to the grains industry. Poor fumigation techniques fail to kill pests at all life cycle stages, so while some adults may die, grain will soon be reinfested again as soon as larvae and eggs develop. What’s worse, every time a poor fumigation is carried out, insects with some resistance survive, and pass the resistance gene into their progeny making control more difficult in the future.
Using the right type of storage is the first and most important step towards an effective fumigation. Only use fumigants, like phosphine, in a pressure-tested, sealed silo. Research shows that fumigating in a storage that is anything less than pressure sealed doesn’t achieve a high enough concentration of fumigant for a long enough period to kill pests at all life cycle stages. For effective phosphine fumigation, a minimum of 300 parts per million (ppm) gas concentration for seven days or 200ppm for 10 days is required. Fumigation trials in silos with small leaks demonstrated that phosphine levels are as low as 3ppm close to the leaks. The rest of the silo also suffers from reduced gas levels. Achieve effective fumigation by placing the correct phosphine rates (as directed on the label) onto a tray and hanging it in the top of a pressuretested, sealed silo or into a ground level application system if the silo is fitted with recirculation. After fumigation, ventilate grain for a minimum of one day with aeration fans running, or five days if no fans are fitted. A minimum withholding period of two days is required after ventilation before grain can be used for human consumption or stock feed. The total time needed for fumigating is 10-17 days. As a general rule, only keep a silo sealed while carrying out the fumigation (for example, one to two weeks). If grain moisture content is low (8-12%) the silo can remain sealed after fumigating but regular monitoring is essential to check for insect infestation and moisture migration to the head space.
When grain is put into storage it needs monitoring just like it does when it’s in the paddock – regularly. Check stored grain at least monthly, taking samples from the bottom, and if safe, the top of the storage.
Things to monitor:
- Insect pests
- Grain temperature
- Grain moisture content
- Grain quality and germination
When buying a new silo, buy a quality, sealable silo fitted with aeration and check with the manufacturer that it meets the Australian Standard for sealable silos (AS2628). Experience has shown that at least two sealable, aerated silos on farm provide the option for an effective fumigation and delivery program. Many older silos are not designed to be sealed and cannot be used for fumigation, however retrofitting aeration can reduce insect multiplication through grain cooling.
Seed held on farm (cereals — wheat, barley, oats)
Seed that is dry, cool and sound (not weather damaged) will remain viable for longer. In well-managed storage, germination percentages can be expected to reduce by only 5 per cent after six months. To achieve this, keep grain moisture content below 12%. Grain temperature also has a major impact on germination. Aim for grain temperatures of 20°C and below in seed storage by using aeration cooling (with auto control). Wheat at 12 per cent moisture content stored at 30-35°C (unaerated grain temperature) will reduce germination percentages and seedling vigour when stored over a long period. Position small seed silos in the shade or paint them reflective white to assist keeping grain cool. WA growers can treat seed with a grain protectant combined with a dyed grain fungicide in combination with aeration cooling to maximise insect control.
Pulse and oilseeds
Insect control options are limited for stored pulses and oilseeds. Aeration and phosphine fumigation are the main methods and controlled atmosphere (inert gasses such as carbon dioxide or nitrogen) may be an option. The effectiveness of phosphine fumigation on oilseeds is often reduced due to phosphine sorption during treatment. Monitoring gas concentrations with a gas monitor is essential to ensure the correct concentration is achieved for the correct length of time. Use sound grain hygiene in combination with aeration cooling to reduce insect activity. Small seed-size grains, such as canola, may need larger-capacity aeration fans to combat the greater amount of back pressure in the storage. Always store these grains at their recommended grain moisture content level.
Phosphine resistance is widespread – plan, monitor and control for clean grain
- Dispose of grain residues and seed gradings. Clean empty storages and grain handling equipment, including harvesters, field bins and augers.
- Sieve stored grain for the presence of insects at least monthly, or use pitfall traps. Also check grain temperature and moisture.
- If grain temperature has been kept below 15°C by aeration, live insect numbers are likely to be low.
- Sample grain three weeks before sale to allow time for any treatment.
- For effective fumigations, pressure test sealable silos at least once a year to identify any leaks and ensure rubber seals are maintained.
- Phosphine fumigation typically requires 7 to 10 days in a gastight sealed silo. When completed, open silo top with care, ventilate using aeration fan for one day; if not aerated, open silo top and ventilate for five days. The minimum withholding period is then two days after ventilation is completed. The total time needed for fumigation is therefore 10-17 days.
- Sieve a half-litre sample onto a white tray. Hold tray in sunlight to warm for 20 to 30 seconds to encourage insect movement.
- If live insects are found, identify them and fumigate in a gas-tight silo according to the label.
- Take care when climbing silos to sample grain for insects and wear a safety harness. Sample from the base, and if safe, take a sample from the surface of the grain.