Farmers invest in land, seed, soil treatments, inputs, equipment, technology and more in order to improve their capabilities.
However, according to Dan Zippay, branch manager of Custom Agri Systems in Beloit, Ohio, on-farm storage and drying systems are often the last upgrade farmers make.
“Farmers get extra ground. They get a bigger combine. What happens when their drying system’s outdated, and they have this big combine sitting out in the field waiting?” he says.
“It’s inefficient,” Dan continues. “We only have a certain amount of time in the fall to get everything done. Farmers make improvements so they can fill up their grain carts, wagons and semis faster. If their grain handling systems aren’t faster, they’re not really accomplishing anything.”
That’s why on-farm grain drying and handling systems continue to evolve. “We’ve got to speed up the process if we’re going to keep up,” he says.
Dan is also a dealer for Brock Manufacturing and his company sells grain storage, drying and handling equipment. He works with farmers on creating on-farm systems that meet their needs.
“Grain bins can be anywhere from 15 feet to 105 feet in diameter. They can hold 1,000 bushels or 1 million bushels,” Dan says. “We can accommodate any size farmers are looking for.”
“In 15 years I’ve never sold a bin that was too big,” he says.
Grain Drying is Key
Dan is able to offer customers a variety of options when it comes to grain drying. He sees farmers buying one of three basic systems today.
“There’s the stirator, which is appropriate for a certain size of farm,” he says. “When those farms grow in acres, they’ll move to the Shivvers system, which is a continuous flow drying system. We can convert the in-bin stirator system to the Shivvers system to make it more efficient.”
The farmers that outgrow the Shivvers system will move up to a larger volume stand-alone dryer.
“Overall, we seem to be moving from stirators and other in-bin drying techniques to more continuous flow in-bin drying and stand-alone dryers,” Dan says. “The mix-flow drying concept is really starting to take hold east of the Mississippi.”
Dan sees more farmers investing in mix-flow dryers and tower dryers, depending on the size of the farming operation.
“The mix-flow dryers use a lot less fuel,” he says. “It’s a large dryer that uses low heat and low airflow. The time it takes to dry the grain is much longer than your standard, low-profile dryers, but its capacity is much greater.”
According to Dan, these dryers are growing in popularity because of the quality of corn coming out of the dryers.
“The high quality is due to the slower drying,” he says.
“When you have a low-profile dryer that only holds 200 bushels and you’re giving it 200 or 210 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re putting that kernel through a lot of stress.”
“On the other hand, with the Grain Handler mix-flow grain dryer, doing the opposite. The dryer drys a large volume of grain with a small amount of airflow. The temperatures are going to be about the same, but due to the increase in volume, it takes longer to get the moisture out of that kernel.”
Cooling and Storage
No matter what drying system farmers use, the grain must be cooled after it’s dried, Dan cautions.
“In the fall and winter months the moisture migration inside a grain bin tends to go towards the center of the bin. This is opposite in the spring and summer, when the migration goes towards the outer edge of the bin and causes grain to stick to the walls. Proper management would be to cool the grain down to 40 degrees in the fall, do not freeze the grain, and slowly warm in back up in the spring. Fans tend to be shut off after the spring warm up occurs.”
Dan is a proponent of constantly monitoring the grain. “We’ve invested so much money into the crop, we need to stay on top of it. We can’t just let it go.”
“The rule of thumb is once a month you have to climb your bin. Look at the grain and smell it. See what’s happening inside,” Dan says.
Of course, farmers must take safety precautions around grain bins. It’s important to have one person on standby in case help is needed.
“Farmers need to check grain bin steps and ladders to make sure everything is safe,” Dan says.
Ultimately, dryers and bins are tools in a farmer’s marketing program to help ensure that the crop is high quality and in good condition when it’s time to ship.
“I get calls every year from farmers who are having problems with corn sticking to walls, crusted on top or plugging center wells,” Dan says. “These are all telltale signs that proper steps were not taken to keep that grain in good condition.”
“It’s an expensive lesson to learn,” he says. “It’s better for farmers to get ahead of the situation and plan for the drying and storage they need.”