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Utilize Technology to Condition Your Grain

If the bin is one of the farm’s bank accounts, why condition grain by guesswork?

By Ryan Thompson

AGI Sales Director, Digital

In farming, there are plenty of factors beyond a grower’s control – weather, pests, input costs, commodity prices, and the list goes on. As growers, we strive to mitigate the uncontrollable factors as best we can, but grain in the bin should not be on the list of factors beyond our control.

What is grain conditioning?

Grain conditioning is the removal of moisture, addition of moisture, cooling of grain, or rewarming of grain. These four processes are done to manage grain by keeping it in a good, safe storage condition. The focus of these processes is to manage the

Equilibrium is reached when the vapor pressure inside the grain matches that of the environment outside the bin. For example, during a warm, fall harvest when grain is over 17%, there is a low vapor pressure outside and a higher vapor pressure inside the grain. To achieve EMC, we would need to condition the grain to lose its moisture to match the outside (atmospheric) conditions or relative humidity.

To keep grain in a safe condition, we want to create a safe atmosphere within the bin. That means creating an atmosphere of 40°F (4.4°C) to 50°F (10°C) and 65% RH (relative humidity). Typically, harvest moisture content of most grains is above 90% RH; so, to safely store that grain, we need to reduce its RH by 25%, on average. For example, if the harvest moisture content of corn is 20-25%, the RH would be approximately 95-100%.

If grain is not conditioned to safe levels, it is open to spoilage hotspots, insect pressure, and other factors that could result in dockage or rejection of grain. Spoilage hotspots occur when RH is greater than (>) 80% and grain temperature is greater than (>) 80°F (26.7°C) for more than three weeks. This temperature range is, also, ideal for insect activity. Grain temperatures below 50°F (10°C) are lethal for most grain insects.

How do we condition grain efficiently?

Now, the big question is how do we accomplish the goal of conditioning grain and creating a safe atmosphere within the grain bin?

In my opinion, most growers with whom I have worked during my 20-year career do a good job of managing the grain in their bins and keeping it in good condition. I would question, however, how efficiently most grain is conditioned by those same growers. The most frequent response I hear from growers on their grain conditioning practices is, “I turn the fans on at harvest and let them run for two, three or four weeks. If everything smells fine and looks good when I close the lid, I don’t know what else I can do.”

That process has obviously worked for many growers. Where I challenge that method is, with all the technology that has been adopted on U.S. farms today, why not apply technology to the grain bin? For example, using the traditional method of letting the fans run for weeks at a time, it not only results in efficiency –loss (energy) dollars, but also efficiency-loss in grain conditioning.

Here is an example.

No two harvests are the same, especially when it comes to weather. Consider the average fall day, if there is such a thing. If I turn my bin’s fan on at 7 a.m. and let it run until 7 p.m., how many hours of the day are conducive to reaching my goal in conditioning grain to the proper temperature, moisture, and relative humidity? In reality, not many.

In that illustration, on average, there might be 4 to 6 hours of that 12-hour window that helps me accomplish my goal. That means there are, on average, 6 to 8 hours of that same 12-hour window that either does not help accomplish my goal or works against it. I can monitor the RH and temperature throughout the day and manually turn my fans off and on, but will that happen with everything else I have going on? Do I have someone on staff that can do that for me? In most cases the answer is, no.

The technology advantage.

Automated bin management systems, such as AGI's SureTrack and BinManager, are available and, more importantly, reliable. A BinManager system allows growers the ability to enter the condition scores of the grain going into the bin, set conditioning targets, and then walk away, allowing them to monitor grain in bins from their phone, tablet or computer. The system provides growers with information on their grain’s temperature and moisture. The fans will automatically turn on and off during peak times when the atmospheric conditions are conducive to conditioning grain to reach specific conditioning goals.

This means growers save on energy costs, create a more consistent grain condition within the bin, improve overall quality, get real-time visibility into the bin, gain peace of mind, and, most importantly,

Whether it is an AGI SureTrack and BinManager system or another sensor-based product, I feel this is the type of technology that could benefit every farm. With all the technology U.S. farmers use to grow a crop, it only makes sense to implement similar technology to monitor, manage and maintain that crop while it is in storage.

Again, the grain bin is one of the farm’s biggest bank accounts. Most people wouldn’t allow their money to sit in an unsecured bank. So, why allow your grain to sit in an unsecured bin?



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