If your grain drying system can’t keep up with the flow of grain coming in from fields in the fall, now is the time to evaluate how to upgrade. Gary Woodruff says there are three areas to consider: adding bin capacity, improving the grain transfer system and perhaps investing in a new dryer.
Woodruff is a district manager and grain conditioning expert with GSI, a major manufacturer of grain dryers and handling systems. Wallaces Farmer asked him to share his thoughts and suggestions for farmers considering an upgrade.
How can farmers determine if and how much more drying capacity they need for the 2020 harvest season? Since drying needs vary year to year based on grain maturity and farms growing in size at a fast rate, it can be difficult to determine how much capacity is enough. The key is, if farms look at their capacity needs based on the average moisture they have experienced even recently, they will find themselves in a bind in a wetter-than-normal year, as well as during the life of the dryer.
Planting equipment capacity has improved dramatically, but drying capacity has lagged behind. If a farm’s drying capacity today could not handle a wet fall in a reasonable number of harvest days, say 15 to 21 with 20 hours per day of operation, take a look at increasing the capacity.
What are different dryer options to consider? How does a farmer decide which is best for their operation? This answer will vary a great deal for any farm. It’s always best to sit down with a system design expert to evaluate and determine the best answer. Many questions need to be answered including total bushels to be dried; how fast is the operation growing since dryers often are used for 20 or more years; how well the existing system was laid out and designed for available space and fill height; whether the storage bins are small enough and equipped to cool hot grain; and the wet bin size and efficiency desired.
MONITORING: The GSI WatchDog remote dryer monitor enables farmers using any web device to adjust dryer settings, monitor dryer functions and receive an alert if a problem arises.
That’s just the start, but in the process of assessing the system the best fit usually becomes more obvious. It may be a tower dryer for full cooling and high efficiency all the way down to a much smaller portable dryer running all heat cooling in the storage bins. Also, a high capacity bin-based dryer like GSI’s TopDry may fit, giving very high quality and efficiency. Not looking at all the possibilities before purchasing would be a mistake long term.
What are the benefits of the latest dryer controls or monitoring technologies currently available? GSI first experimented with remote monitoring and control of a dryer using modems and desktop PC computers in the late ’90s, the beginning of our WatchDog option. Today, any web-capable device including a smartphone can do nearly anything safely that you might do standing in front of the control panel, as well as delivering any warnings or information directly to the operator. The freedom to see and change what the dryer is doing has gone from a gee-whiz trick to a near necessity as labor gets tight and the dryer runs 24 hours a day.
Most dryer manufacturers offer a varied list of remote monitoring as technology becomes a part of daily life. Monitoring grain in the bin is much the same, but over a much longer time span. Knowing as soon as possible about a possible grain condition issue means more options for what might be done. The 24-hour, seven-day-a-week monitoring of grain temperature and/or carbon dioxide, along with very effective control of the aeration of the bin means less chance of loss of dry matter if not the grain itself. But possibly the best thing aeration control can do is get the grain down to the safe temperature of 50 degrees F much faster than can be done manually.
Technology continues to improve. For example, GrainViz from GSI is being developed to allow operators to see the moisture content of their stored grain and its location within the grain mass using technology similar to an MRI.
Prior to harvest, what are some of the important maintenance checks farmers should perform — or have their dealer perform — to ensure the equipment will be in good working order for harvest? All the discussion of dryer capacity and bottlenecks for harvest gets far worse if the dryer is down during harvest. Everyone — farmer, grain equipment dealer and the manufacturers — are maxed out labor-wise. The best way to eliminate or keep downtime to a minimum is to do a preseason check of all the parts of the dryer that could go down. Inspecting all moving parts is critical. Bearings, flighting or drive components often are forgotten until they break down or can’t handle the grain flow in the middle of harvest.
NEW TECH: GrainViz technology is being developed to allow you to see the moisture content of stored grain and its location within the grain mass.
As with all harvest equipment, it’s best to thoroughly clean the dryer as soon as the season is finished, but often it is the last one in line and it may not get done. That leads to a major food supply for vermin of all types that may chew on wires or build nests. A carefully cleaned dryer reduces that chance. Cleaning prior to harvest can mean far less downtime due to plugging. The more dirt in the control boxes, the faster connections and components age and break down.
Much of the cleaning and some of the mechanical repairs may be in the capabilities of the owner, but often the company responsible for servicing the dryer can do the inspection, repairs and electrical cleaning best. If you work on something all the time, you know what to look for and can more quickly spot and fix issues. I highly recommend having a service professional do a preseason service on any dryer that has to run at top condition — and that should be every dryer.