Grain monitoring pays off
The computer screen showed what was happening with grain stored in bins on the homeplace 25 miles away. “We’re connected through the Internet,” says Adam Gittins. “This is at my mom’s house where our bins are on our farm near Neola. We have the OPI Blue grain monitoring system with cable sensors in our bins.”
Gittins also works for HTS Ag, a precision-ag firm based at Harlan in western Iowa, which sells and services automated grain monitoring equipment to farmers and commercial grain facilities. HTS Ag has been working with farmers using the OPI Integris Pro system since 2009. The OPI Blue system, introduced last year, offers remote connectivity. No more driving to your bins to plug in a hand-held device to read grain temperature and moisture.
The system is worth the investment, says Joel Wahling, who farms near Shelby in western Iowa. He bought a new OPI Blue system in fall 2014 to try on one bin. During spring planting, he checked the reading on his iPad daily, a real time-saver during the busy season. One day he saw that grain temperatures at the bottom of the bin were reaching the upper 60 degrees F.
“The weather forecast said we had a couple of cool mornings coming, an opportunity to run the fan at night and cool the grain down to safe storage levels to avoid spoilage,” recalls Wahling. He ran the fan overnight when the outdoor temperature cooled; he turned the fan off in the morning as weather warmed up during the day. The grain temperature went back down in the bottom 5 to 10 feet of grain.
Watchful eye on grain
During planting season you don’t think about checking stored grain. “Without this system to monitor grain moisture and temperature, I wouldn’t have realized the bottom corn was getting a little warm,” says Wahling. “When you’re busy, you don’t have time to check grain regularly by manually turning on fans and smelling the air that comes from each bin. This tool provided me the information when I needed it.”
That particular bin is 36 feet in diameter and has three cables in it with a sensor every 4 feet along the cable, from top to bottom of the bin. One cable has moisture and temperature sensors; the other two cables have temperature-only sensors. The combination moisture-and-temperature cable is more expensive than the temperature-only. “We typically hang one or two combination cables, and the rest that we put in a bin measure temperature only,” says Gittins. “That provides a good way to find hot spots in the grain, and we still get a fairly uniform idea of what the grain moisture is, without using so many cables.” The lower end of the hanging cables is far enough above the floor so the sweep auger doesn’t hit the cables.
“We can see some incredibly useful diagnostic information reported by these cables by scrolling down the computer screen,” says Gittins. Each sensor located on a cable has its own unique address because it is communicating on a two-wire line.
Convinced of its value, Wahling plans to install the system in his other grain bins, too. You can set your target grain moisture and temperature, and let the system automatically turn the fans on and off. The system also reports grain inventory levels in bins.
Once you get the system installed, you are just adding on sensors and cables in the other bins, he notes. The biggest cost is the node on top of each bin, and the Gateway and control box in your house or farm office. Once you have those components purchased, adding other bins to the system involves adding a node and cables to each bin. This could cost a few thousand per bin, depending on bin size.
“Many farmers today have an iPad or other tablet device in their home,” notes Wahling. “Or your wife or kids do. The rest of the system isn’t overly expensive, and once you have it installed in your first bin, you cover a lot of the cost if you have several bins at one site. I can do the rest of the bins for perhaps 25% of the cost of what the first bin was, to pick up additional bins that are within close proximity of each other.”
Gittins says the cost of the Gateway is about $2,000, and the nodes on each bin are around $800. After that, your only cost is the cables, which vary in length depending on the bin’s height. A $2,000 Gateway can handle multiple nodes and bins.
System can pay for itself
Last year Gittins harvested some wet corn and was carrying it into 2015 wetter than usual, knowing he could watch it closely with the high-tech system. When the system told him the grain temperature was rising, he turned on the fans immediately and stopped the grain from going out of condition. His action avoided having a huge problem. “We pulled our semi-truck up to the bin and began cleaning it out,” he says. “There was no damage to the grain yet.”
These high-tech grain monitoring systems were easier to buy when corn was $6 or $7 a bushel, says Wahling. But now you can’t afford not to have them, he adds. If you have to take a dollar-a-bushel dock on $3.25 corn, that could bankrupt you if a lot of your corn went bad. Whereas, if you had $7 corn and some of it went bad, and you took a dollar-a-bushel dock, you’d still get $6 for your corn — not as big a deal as when corn is only $3.25 to $3.50 per bushel, he says.
This article published in the November, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.