Systems keep tabs on bins

Cable sensors measure heat and humidity every 15 minutes

Two new systems measuring temperature and humidity levels in bins could save farmers thousands of dollars in losses from spoiled grain.

The remote systems of sensors and wireless communications networks connect to a farmer’s computer or smart phone with an e-mail or text message to warn something is amiss. Management of Calgary has released a system that measures heat and humidity, while Intra Grain Technologies of Regina has developed Bin-Sense 1.0, which monitors temperature.

“Unlike manufacturing systems, there is no automated system for farmers to control their inventory and manage quality and content,” said Gary Gunthorpe, an engineer and Mifarm president.

Farmers may check their bins less than once a week, but this system monitors it every 15 minutes.

“Farmers need to manage their grain as soon as it comes off the fields. Once it comes off the wheels, they write it down on scraps of paper,” Gunthorpe said.

The cable is placed inside a steel cable for protection and to hold it up in the bin.

The software was designed to be as simple and friendly as possible, said Vincent Pang, who helps farmers set up the system and install the cables in their bins.

The farmer logs in and sees a screen with graphs and labelled animated bins so individual sites can be checked online from a smart phone, iPad or computer.

The program can also provide up to the minute weather and markets information.

The company is also developing more sensors to measure carbon dioxide and more advanced quality sampling methods.

Considerable amounts of data are generated, but Pang thinks most will go for the basic information.

“We anticipate the farmer is not going to be using a lot of this. They really care if it is going to be too hot or too cold,” he said.

Mifarm has four partners: Deltatee Enterprises, a software and electronics firm; All Blades, a steel blades and sharpening business; Cervus, an investment company and software developer and AIT Agritronics in Saskatchewan.

The federal government has given the company $750,000 from the Agricultural Innovation Program to further commercialize the system.

Kyle Folk, head of IntraGrain, worked with SpringBoard West Innovations to develop his system. This is a government supported initiative to develop and support new ideas. He has other investors.

Two years ago his father lost grain to overheating and as an electrician, the son decided there had to be a technological solution.

His system has a sensor on the top of the bin attached to a temperature cable hanging inside. The data is sent to a master unit hourly and then the information is passed to the nearest cellphone tower and alerts the farmer. The message will indicate which bin is in difficulty.

“Any bin you would want to monitor would have this wireless transmitter on the top,” he said.

The system is battery powered and can be located in any remote location. The users can check the company website anytime.

Folk’s next step is to develop humidity sensors.

“There have been other options available in the past,” said Folk.

Farmers could use hand held units at the bin site, but this allows them to check the situation from anywhere they can receive texts or e-mails.

“Wireless technology has evolved over the past years and become more inexpensive and easier to use,” he said.

His product received two innovation awards at the recent Canada’s Farm Progress show in Regina.

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