6 tips to get your grain from the field to the bin

6 tips to get your grain from the field to the bin

By: Dave Mowitz 08/01/2012 @ 11:10am

1. Add another semi truck

For sheer take-away speed, nothing beats the volume of semitrailer trucks for getting grain home from the field. Once a novelty on farms, semitrailer trucks have become a mainstay of grain hauling. But the days of finding cheap semis are over.

Greg “Machinery Pete” Peterson has seen firsthand the intense bidding interest on nice condition trucks since last August. At that time he was covering a farm retirement auction in southeast Minnesota held by Maring Auction Company that featured a 2009 Mack Model GU713. With only 21,566 miles on its odometer, the truck sold for $101,500. (See the table below for more details.)

The trend of rising used semitrailer truck values has carried over into Peterson's 2012 Machinery Pete reports. E.B. Harris Inc., auctioneers of Warrenton, North Carolina, reported to Peterson that bids were particularly strong on a May 19 farm auction they were conducting. At that sale in North Carolina, a 2000 Peterbilt with 648,037 miles sold for $35,000.

Peterson also witnessed two Peterbilt 379s bring strong bids at a southeast Minnesota auction.

“These babies were sweet rigs with Caterpillar Model C15 engines, 18-speed transmissions, and new rubber all around,” Peterson remembers. “I happened to visit with the guy who was the runner-up bidder on the 379 that sold for $105,000. He wound up getting the other Peterbilt for $100,000. He told me he had owned three Peterbilts in his life, and he wanted to buy and own just one more before he quit farming.”

Paul Wachter, president of Taylor & Martin Auctioneers, Inc. of Fremont, Nebraska (www.taylorandmartin.com), the leading trucking auction firm in North America, points out that the good years of farm income have driven farmer purchases of semitrailer trucks.

“From last summer through the end of 2011, it was a feeding frenzy,” Wachter recalls.

For even more semitrailer truck auction action, visit www.machinerypete.com. You can also read Peterson's weekly column at www.agriculture.com/machinery.

2. Expand Pit and Wet Storage Capacity

When Doug Repp set out to expand the capacity of his grain center several years ago, the Minburn, Iowa, farmer spent a great deal of time designing a high-speed dump pit. “I wanted a pit that would consume grain as fast as my hopper-bottom semitrailer trucks would drop it so I could have as close to on-the-go unloading as possible,” he explains. “I didn't want too small a pit to end up idling hundreds of thousands of dollars of harvest equipment in the field.”

For Dave Diedrich of Elkton, South Dakota, increasing grain-handling speed came with the addition of some wet storage that would hold at least a day's worth of hard harvesting to feed his continuous-flow dryer. “I didn't want my combine waiting on the dryer, so additional wet storage was the answer.”

During times of tight dryer inventories due to high demand, expanding pit and wet storage capacity is the quickest way to keep combines rolling this fall. One of the challenges with expanding pit capacity comes with the existing pit. A great many farms have pits that were installed 20 years ago and were designed to accommodate 500-plus-bushel straight trucks that took several minutes to unload. Such pits choke up under a 1,000-plus-bushel double hopper-bottom trailer that drops all its load in seconds. Plus, many older pits can often only accommodate one hopper at a time, further delaying unload time.

If time prior to harvest allows for the complete replacement of such an older pit, then size the new pit to consume the entire load of the largest transport vehicle at a minimum. Equip that pit with conveying equipment that will empty it at a rate that exceeds the per-hour output of your combine. For example, you could opt to go with one large pit or a tandem pair of pits in which the combined holding capacity matches that of the truck, says Ryan Jackson of Lowry Manufacturing Co., which makes the DumpIt unit. “Equipped with one large-diameter auger or double augers, you can get take-away capacities from that pit set up of up to 14,000 bushels per hour,” he claims.

That take-away capacity must be matched up to leg capacity, warns Jackson. Otherwise, you've just created a new bottleneck. If leg capacity is restricted, you may have to opt for a larger pit that holds freshly dumped grain that allows the leg to catch up.

An option to replacing an older pit would be to invest in a portable drive-over hopper that is basically a chain conveyor on wheels. Equipped with ramps, such above-ground pits have capacity of up to 8,000 bushels per hour.

When it comes to expanding wet storage, Kent Craighton of Sukup Manufacturing recommends sizing new structures so they're able to handle at least one day's worth of grain coming from the field. “That's a bare minimum. Two days of capacity is even better,” he says. “That capacity allows overflow in case wetter grain is slowing drying early in the season, for example. Such capacity allows you to run on a 24-hour drying period.”

3. Consider a grain pump

A concept that has swept across the prairie plains of Canada – the grain pump – is now catching on in the U.S., where farmers are discovering the speed and flexibility this grain-handling approach offers. Originally introduced by Hutchinson in the 1990s and now sold both by Hutchinson/Mayrath (www.hutchinson-mayrath.com) and Sukup Manufacturing (www.sukup.com), the grain pump offers the advantage of servicing long lines of bins at surprising capacities. “We offer pumps that can move 20,000 bushels an hour,” says Kent Craighton of Sukup.

Capacity aside, grain pumps offer the flexibility to both load and unload new grain bins that are out of reach of established legs. “We have installed systems that load and unload a dozen or more bins in a row,” says Mike Williams of Hutchinson/Mayrath. “That feature has certainly attracted a lot of attention with farmers, as we are now selling more pumps than portable auger and belt conveyors.”

Another benefit of grain pumps is that their life span is three to five times longer than an auger.

4. Maintain Your Grain Cart

The fact that grain carts are relatively free of breakdowns doesn't mean they are maintenance-free, warns Luc van Herle of Kinze Manufacturing. “Think of all the things that are obvious, such as greasing the fittings, checking gearbox oil level, and examining the state of the drive chain or drive belt that drives the augers,” he says. “What is sometimes forgotten is to check the torque on the wheel lugs. The wheels are massive on grain carts, and you need to reset the torque physically. While you're at it, check the tire pressure. If it's a track cart, check the torque on the various bolts and the track tension.”

Other items on a grain cart maintenance checklist include:

• Augers. “Make sure the wearable parts are still within specifications and the auger turns freely,” van Herle says. “Examine flighting for wear, looking for sharp or rolled edges.”

• Hydraulic hoses. In particular, look for cracks and abrasions on all hoses and replace such hoses to meet the cart's original specifications.

• PTO shaft. “There's a lot of torque being transferred through shafts,” he explains. Inspect shafts and all joints. If chains are in use, examine their entire length of wear and replace if necessary.

• Wiring. “Lighting and scale wiring offer a great attraction for rodents when the cart is in storage,” van Herle says.

• Coiling mechanism on tarps. If your cart has a tarp, unroll it and make sure the coiling mechanism works smoothly. 

5. Max Out Dryer Temps

You not only speed grain drying but also cut costs by operating at the maximum temperature your dryer is designed to operate, explains Ken Hellevang. “Many times, that doesn't seem to make sense,” the North Dakota State University engineer says. “Some farmers think, ‘If I turn the burner down, I'm burning fewer gallons per hour.’ But they're also going to be drying fewer bushels per hour. The research is pretty clear that as we increase the dryer temperature, we increase the energy efficiency and, of course, boost drying speed.”

A second misconception about drying Hellevang would like to dismiss is that waiting to allow corn to dry down in the field saves money and time. “The later in the fall you wait to harvest, the less moisture is being removed from corn in the field, as ambient (outdoor) temperatures fall as the season progresses,” Hellevang explains. “And since air temps are colder, that significantly increases drying cost, as you are having to heat incoming air that is around 30°F. compared to 50°F. earlier in the season.”

“Once corn gets down to 20% to 21% moisture, you need to get it out of the field,” Hellevang urges.

Another strategy he encourages is to conduct an energy audit prior to harvest. “An audit allows you to compare energy use to what is typically expected and in comparison to newer dryers with energy-efficiency features,” he says.

Contact your Extension agent or state agricultural engineer to learn how to conduct an audit sponsored by the USDA's REAP program.

Another advantage of the audit is the effort can reveal the need for maintenance (such as burner adjustment) or support the decision to replace existing equipment (upgrading to a higher speed, energy-efficient model). “Depending on how old your dryer is, the cost savings of upgrading to a more efficient dryer can be as much as 1¢ per bushel per point of moisture removed,” Hellevang provides as an example. “And you'll boost drying speed, too.” 

6. Automate Grain Handling

Randy Leka took out an electronic insurance policy in the form of an in-bin monitoring system that watches 1.1 million bushels in storage at Grigsby Farms, Tallula, Illinois (where he is the farm manager). His system actively monitors grain in storage and is also capable of automatically turning on aeration fans as dictated by grain condition. “The fans only run when the combination of ambient temperature and relative humidity are going to keep grain at our stated goal,” he says.

John Galvin's touchscreen computer (shown right) controls all facets of his 200,000-plus-bushel grain system located near Virden, Manitoba. Not only does that computer select where grain is to be stored after drying, but also it can be used to grab grain from various bins for blending before taking grain to market.

Colin Hargreaves (shown above) invested in software for his system that allows him to set it and forget it during harvest. This lets the Souris, Manitoba, farmer focus on field activities. “The computer knows to shut down the entire system, including the grain dryer, if a problem arises,” he says.

Electronics abound to control every aspect of grain handling and storage. And the beauty of this technology is that it can be employed in existing grain systems and likely installed in the remaining months before harvest kicks into high gear.

Calvin Anderson of Anderson & Sons, a grain systems contractor in Oakland, Nebraska, says automatic controls can be as simple as relay switches that turn on grain pit conveyors automatically for on-the-go unloading to remote control of dryers and leg distributors via a cell phone in a combine cab. “One farmer we installed a grain system for related how we got the time to dump a semitrailer truck down to 31 seconds, although 45 seconds is more common,” Anderson sats. “Without automation, farmers tell me it usually takes three minutes.”

Kent Craighton of Sukup Manufacturing has seen a wide variety of advances in electronic controls in just the past decade, especially when it comes to dryer monitoring and adjustments.

“Today's controls are more dependable. If you set a dryer to turn out corn at 15.5% moisture, that's exactly what you're going to get,” he says. “Advances in controls are key. For example, our Quantum-touch control uses PLC (programmable logic controller) programming that is more reliable than circuit boards. PLC is controlled through a cell phone, so you can adjust a dryer from the combine cab.”

Smartphone Unloading

The first of what will certainly be an increasing number of smartphone and tablet applications providing remote control of harvest machinery is being offered by Indiana farm boy and Purdue University engineering graduate Neil Mylet. The LoadOut app (www.loadout.co) accesses a control box that is mounted on the side of a grain bin. That box, which is equipped with a camera, controls the bin's auger. In operation, you can pull up to a bin, view the position of the truck under the loading auger using the camera's monitor via your smartphone, and then turn on the auger's motor to fill the truck – all without leaving the truck cab.