Most farms likely to see heavy use of grain dryers

After the 2016 harvest nightmare on the Prairies, grain bin and dryer manufacturers had a good run installing systems capable of quickly drying large amounts of crop.

Many farms are now well-positioned to dry tough grain, which is fortunate because there is a pile of it coming off this fall.

But even with a good bin and dryer set up, keeping tough grain sound until it can be put through a dryer can be tricky.

Angela Brackenreed of the Canola Council of Canada said some producers prefer to temporarily store tough canola in bags instead of bins.

“If you think about a bag versus a bin, we’re now dealing with a smaller diameter so we don’t have that kind of stacking effect. And it’s a different material that potentially has greater impact by ambient temperature or ambient conditions so it can fluctuate quicker, or more,” Brackenreed said.

She said the University of Manitoba studied storing tough canola in bags and did it successfully for four weeks at 14 percent moisture.

“They analyzed it quite extensively over periods of time. They did find that, yes, you can put even that high moisture canola into a bag, but it’s really temporarily, and I think that needs to be the approach that we take,” Brackenreed said.

“They also looked at 10 percent moisture canola, and it was surprising to me that they could store it for 24 weeks. That is longer than I ever would have expected.”

She said the study found the bags with 10 percent moisture needed to be unloaded before ground thaw.

Harvest at the Doug Swystun farm near Redberry Lake, Sask., reached the halfway point this week, but he still has 5,000 acres of canola to go.

“We ordered a dryer, but by the time it shows up in two or three weeks we might need a still, not a dryer,” Swystun said.

He said he’s torn between putting canola at 15 percent in a bin with a fan, or bagging it.

“I’d probably rather put it in a bag. I have some experience with that. This happened, I think it was (2009), we were putting it in a bag and it kept for like four or five months. We made five or six of these bags,” Swystun said.

The canola he bagged was near 15 percent moisture, but the bags remained sealed and the canola remained sound until he was able to put it through a dryer.

“You’d open the bag and it would smell a bit like it was rotten, you’d think, uh-oh, but it was all good. I have this feeling that it just starts to ferment, there is just enough oxygen still locked in the bag. Then once it runs out of oxygen it chokes and just holds,” Swystun said.

He said he had no problems with the canola freezing solid so it wouldn’t flow when pulled out with an extractor.

He has, however, had wheat at 20 percent moisture freeze solid and then he and his farm hands had to use a bulldozer to push the wheat to a grain auger.

Brackenreed said she’s talked to producers who had canola at 14 percent moisture freeze solid, and it had to be warmed up and melted before it would start to flow.

Joy Agnew of the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute said making sure the bags are properly sealed is key to successfully storing tough grain.

“I would caution producers storing wet grain in bags, it’s temporary, it has to be temporary. The idea around bags is they have to remain air tight to prevent any of that spoilage from initiating. So they have to be monitored carefully in terms of patching up holes and anything like that,” Agnew said.

Wildlife is enemy Number 1 of grain bags, and the University of Manitoba study on temporarily storing tough grain in bags showed that lime helps to reduce damage from rodents.

Brackenreed said she’s heard anecdotal evidence that using tarps under the grain bags can also helps reduce damage from rodents.

For animals such as deer and racoons choosing where the grain bags are placed can sometimes help reduce losses. For instance, growers may want to situate their grain bags away from bush or other areas that provide cover for animals.

Growers have to keep a close eye on tough grain stored in bags, especially if the temperature warms.

“With all of this you certainly need to monitor diligently. We talk about this with any canola, but once you’re talking nine percent and higher, then that becomes even more critical,” Brackenreed said.

She said ground preparation is extremely important to achieve a good grain bag seal.

Find “somewhere relatively flat and free of debris because we can puncture the bags and those are often the places where we get moisture accumulations and where spoilage will start,” Brackenreed said.

“Avoid over filling them where they start to stretch and become more prone to getting punctured.”

She said growers storing damp canola in bins should keep fans on even if the air doesn’t have the capacity to dry, because the air will stabilize the grain’s temperature and help prevent hot spots from forming.

It’s is also a good idea to turn the fans back on when temperature gets very cold.

“The colder the things are, the less biological activity there is. And that’s really what we’re trying to limit, to keep our stored grain safe,” Brackenreed said.

Agnew said growers need to use supplemental heat if they are hoping to dry grain in their bins this late in the season.

“You will have to add heat because the drying capacity of just natural air right now is minimal. The air temperature on average has to be higher than 15 C to get any kind of sustained drying action. That’s what you need to pull out more than one and a half percent,” Agnew said.

She said producers need to match the temperature going into the bin, or the temperature increase, to the available air flow of the bin’s fan.

“That is absolutely critical because a lot of farmers are calling me and saying, ‘I use 100 degrees in my air dryer so I’m going to use 100 degrees going into my bin.’ Do not do that,” Agnew said.

“Because in your bin, you do not have the energy in terms of air flow to actually get the moisture out of the bin.”

She said this hot air can extract moisture from the kernels, but it will just sit in the voids in between the kernels until the air has the energy to pull it out.

“Use moderate temperatures when natural air drying with supplemental heat because your moderate airflow is around .75 or one CFM per bushel. That can handle a nice slow steady moisture removal rate. But it cannot handle really rapid moisture removal,” Agnew said.

She said the air temperature going into the grain at about 20 C is great if you have .75 to one CFM per bushel air flow.

The moisture removal rate is much higher when using supplemental heat over natural air drying, so growers must ensure there is adequate ventilation space at the top of the bin, such as open hatches and possibly even fans pulling air and moisture out.

To achieve adequate air flow through the grain bulk in a bin, Brackenreed said producers should under fill bins if they can.

“When we’re dealing with tough or damp canola we want to make sure we can get air all the way through that bulk as efficiently as possible. So the higher the depth of grain, the longer it’s going to take to reach the top portion of it,” Brackenreed said.

Growers should also level off the cone of grain that forms at the top.

“The easiest way is once you’re done filling it then take a little bit out, because it starts to come from the top and it will flatten,” Brackenreed said.

She also suggests that growers turn their tough canola often.

Agnew recently published a fact sheet about using supplemental heat to manage grain. It is available here.

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