High nitrogen atmosphere to control pests in storage

Author: | Date: 27 Jan 2016

James Newman a young man leaning against a large piece of machinery

Research by Murdoch University is taking a high-nitrogen atmosphere into the field to assess its impact on grain-storage pests on-farm, with indications that the approach could provide a viable, insecticide-free solution to pest control.

The research is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) through the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) and uses membrane-based, gas-separation technology that is commonly used in industrial applications, such as mining.

By controlling the atmosphere in grain storage, growers can potentially capitalise on the benefits of using a non-insecticide alternative to phosphine, according to Murdoch University’s laboratory business and industry liaison manager, James Newman.

“I think the idea of using nitrogen for storing grain on-farm will gain momentum over the next few years,” he said.

“Growers are starting to see the economic benefits of storing grain on-farm and selling it into the market when it suits them.

“They know the product they are offering is high-quality, clean and ‘green’ grain, with no insecticide residues.”

In an initial laboratory evaluation, nitrogen controlled all adult and immature stages of warehouse beetle as well as phosphine-resistant and susceptible strains of red flour beetle, lesser grain borer and grain weevil.

New and more affordable technology is positioning this approach, which has been known for more than 30 years, as a viable option for growers to protect stored grain.

However, growers require adequate infrastructure to maintain the necessary nitrogen levels.

“You need a well-sealed structure to achieve and maintain a nitrogen level of about 98 per cent,” Mr Newman said.

“Control of insects rapidly declines when nitrogen levels fall to 96 per cent or below.”

A nitrogen generator on display at the Mingenew-Irwin Group’s spring field day in August received positive feedback and Mr Newman estimates the unit could cost between $50,000 and $60,000 to purchase.

These units are only required for a few days on each farm annually and are relatively maintenance-free.

Mr Newman estimated that the price per tonne for a nitrogen treatment would generally be less than $1.

He said many growers were keen to investigate the prospect of a co-owned unit purchased by a group to enable a lower initial capital cost.

More information about the trial is available in the GRDC Grain Storage Supplement. This was included in the November-December 2015 edition of the GRDC magazine 'Ground Cover'. To subscribe to 'Ground Cover' Follow this link.

Practical information about all aspects of grain storage is available on the GRDC Stored Grain Information Hub.

By investing in grain storage research, the GRDC aims to support growers to introduce and maintain excellent stored grain management for human consumption, stockfeed and seed. 

Contact Details 

For Interviews

James Newman
08 9360 6403


Melissa Williams, Cox Inall Communications
0428 884 414

GRDC Project Code NPB00013

Region West

GRDC Project code: NPB00013