Grain bins with brains

The computer technology to monitor and manage stored grain in bins on the farm and at grain elevators has been around a while. But it’s gotten a lot smarter and easier to use in the last few years.

Grain bins with brains

The computer technology to monitor and manage stored grain in bins on the farm and at grain elevators has been around a while. But it’s gotten a lot smarter and easier to use in the last few years.

Automated monitoring of grain temperature and moisture content using data reported to a PC or laptop was introduced first. Now, wireless systems can deliver timely grain storage information to smartphones and tablet devices as well.

Of course, many farmers still use the traditional “sniff test” to check stored corn and soybeans. They turn the fan on once every two weeks or so, and smell the first air coming out of the grain. If it’s musty or foul-smelling, they know they’ve got a problem and need to act fast to keep the “hot spot” from spreading and spoiling the entire bin.

However, faster and more accurate than the sniff test, the new automated monitoring systems offer advantages that will pay for their purchase and installation, say farmers who use them.

Running the cables

To gauge moisture and temperature, cables with sensors hang from the bin roof down through the grain. Bin diameter dictates the number of cables. Outside air is also monitored. The user inputs what grain is being stored and the target moisture content. The system automatically knows when to run fans to prevent spoilage, shrinkage or overdrying.

The technology reduces the time spent climbing and probing bins, reducing the risk of accidents. But it’s still a good idea to look at the grain and check it periodically. The system will notify a farmer via text message, email or both if there’s a grain quality problem. These systems can also provide storage data.

Precision-ag company HTS Ag, based at Harlan in western Iowa, sells, installs and services OPI Advanced Grain Management systems. “With the weather playing a role, there are always questions about when to run fans. This system decides for you, based on information you provide,” says Adam Gittins, HTS Ag general manager, who uses the system on his family’s farm.

These systems also save energy and reduce electricity use. “We’ve generally seen about a 40% reduction in fan running time, a real savings,” says Gittins. “In many cases, our system will pay for itself in two or three years, just on electricity savings.”

Such systems aren’t cheap. You can spend $6,000 to $10,000 initially to buy the system and have it installed on a big bin. But you can add other bins to the network. “Farmers are ready to invest once they see they can get such a significant return on investment. The potential savings add up,” says Gittins. “The system saves electricity by running fans only when needed, and it helps protect the quality of your stored crop.”

Most farmers when drying grain in conventional systems either do not run the fans long enough and end up with some grain that will spoil, or they’ll run the fans too long and end up overdrying grain near the bottom of the bin. They are losing bushels. “This loss is quite common,” says Gittins. “You want to get the right amount of air through the grain at the right temperature.”

You can set a high-tech monitoring system not only to run when the air is dry enough, but also not to run when the air is too dry. If you get 6% or 7% low-moisture air on a real dry fall day, you don’t want to run the fans, even if the rest of the conditions are right. “In that case, we’ll leave the fans off because we know they’ll overdry the grain so much on the bottom of the bin,” says Gittins.

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CONNECTED: With sensors installed in his bin, farmer Joel Wahling (left) is getting moisture and temperature updates automatically on stored grain. Adam Gittins of HTS Ag explains how the system delivers timely management information to mobile devices, anytime and anywhere.

This article published in the November, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

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