Save and make money with grain bins using controlled air drying strategies

Samantha Scantlebury

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U tilizing a controlled drying strategy with your grain bins this fall and winter can result in big savings, and in some cases, may even make you money. First, let’s review what controlled air drying is vs. uncontrolled drying.

Traditional grain storage management practices have long been to fill the grain bin, flip on the fans, run them for a few weeks to dry and flip them on and off intermittently throughout the winter. The problem with this uncontrolled drying strategy is that it’s essentially guesswork. When fans are running constantly over a certain window of time, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature’s conditions. There are times that the air being pushed through the grain may even be counterproductive to your grain drying goals, if you are not aware of what condition the grain inside the bin is.

Controlled natural air drying takes into account the actual conditions of the stored grain. This data then informs when the outside air meets the right parameters to be pushed through the grain and is productive toward drying goals. Key factors that affect the success of controlled drying are airflow (required 0.10 cfm/bu for cooling, 1-2 cfm/bu for drying), properly-designed bins and characteristics of your grain variety. You also must have a means to measure the grain within the grain bin, such as with grain monitoring or grain management technology.

The chart below compares uncontrolled (red line) and controlled natural air drying (blue line). You can see how the uncontrolled drying darts above and below the equilibrium moisture content (EMC) of 16%, because it is running air through based on whatever Mother Nature is delivering at that time. When the red line is above 16% that means the fans are actually rewetting the grain, which will cost even more fan run time to dry down.

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This leads us to the big point about money. There are several ways in which money can be either made or lost in the bin. Two of the areas where a controlled drying strategy has great impact are in reduction of over-dry loss and fan run time (energy savings). Two charts below showcase the differences between uncontrolled drying and controlled drying using a system like BinManager, which has temperature and moisture cables in the grain.

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With controlled drying, the grain is able to get to a more uniform moisture content and minimize the high levels of over-dry that are common in the bottom layers of the grain.

And because the fans aren’t running constantly for several weeks or months, energy costs are drastically cut. In controlled drying grain management, the fans are only being called to run when the outside air is productive in helping push a drying front through and bring the grain to more uniformity.

Farms put grain in grain bins every year. These over-dry and energy savings are just from managing your grain storage optimally with controlled air drying – not overhauling or retooling the way an operation is run. When markets are tight, these are the types of savings readily available to farms.

In addition to savings in energy/fuel and reduced over-dry, grain monitoring and grain management technologies used in controlled drying can save and make you money in several ways:

  • Protect/Manage against spoilage and mold and insect damage
  • Manage to precise targets in order to meet premium standards
  • Rehydrate an over-dry harvest (a unique BinManager setting)
  • Hold grain longer to capitalize on market carry
  • Minimize labor costs and improve safety by removing the need to manually probe the grain or enter the bin for crusting or blockage – simply put, you can’t put a price on a life

It’s easy to look at a grain bin just as a capital investment. But if you see it as a tool and utilize technology and management best practices, your grain bin could quite easily become a bank where the savings continue to add up. Talk to an IntelliFarms Grain Specialist about the costs and benefits of controlled drying technology with your grain and operation, and start to explore how controlled drying technology can make an impact on your bottom line this year.