Wiltshire grower finds the key to success with stored grain
Imagine having a means of knowing the relative humidity and temperature of stored grain at any given moment and the ability to control fan operation remotely by pre-setting temperature and moisture parameters.
Wiltshire farmer David Lemon discovered he could do this prior to harvest 2018 when he became the first grower in the UK to install a Robydome AVC 300 smart grain monitoring and control system – operated and fine-tuned by using his mobile phone. Although feeling his way initially, he very soon found he could make serious energy savings, while at the same time boosting grain quality.
David runs the 1,600ha Grafton Farm Partnership at East Grafton, in the east of the county, growing 400ha each of winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley – the balance being down to rye, maize or alternative crops for rotational benefit. Milling wheat goes to Ranks at Andover, while the premium spring barley is destined to satisfy the lager drinkers of Europe.
“Last year, we decided to take advantage of a grant scheme that was available at the time, which aimed to improve the quality of grain in store,” he explains, “so we opted to go down the Robydome route. In a nutshell, the system basically turns the fans on and off automatically, according to demand, to the parameters that we set.
“The combines start to run here when moisture gets down to 18 per cent in the wheat, with the barley at 16.5–17.0 per cent – which we then take down to 13.5 in the store. The real challenge we face is when the air in the grain store is moist, which in turn means we’re blowing damp air in and risking payment penalties. Now, with this system, the fans come on automatically when the relative humidity in the stores hits 75 per cent.”
In its first year of operation in the Grafton grain stores – one at the main site, with 7 smaller satellite locations – the Robydome set-up helped to save almost £2,500 on the electricity bill for drying over the months of September, October and November 2018. In addition, the incidence of penalties imposed by customers was significantly reduced.
“It’s a very easy system to set up,” David reports, “and provides a very clear, real-time picture of what’s happening in the various stores. It has performed exceptionally well in its first year and has meant that our grain store personnel are not having to come out at all hours to check what’s going in the stores and constantly having to change settings. With the Robydome, all this is now achieved using a mobile phone.
“Some of our stores are quite remote, but they still needed to be physically monitored by staff, sometimes every hour or two. Now, with this system, it’s so easy. Already, I’ve got a lot of faith in it, so why go for anything more complicated?”
A single control facility has the capacity to manage up to 8 store sites, with up to 32 remote sensors at each location. Measuring ambient humidity and air temperature, it automatically regulates if or when the fan input is required. This means that the crop is constantly conditioned to an optimum storage level.
David Lemon makes the point that it’s easy to think that the grain needs more conditioning than it really does, adding that the system is equally effective in both ground bins and towers. “Another consideration,” he adds, “is that by speeding the throughput of grain through the stores, it prevents any backlogs building up. This, in turn, means that the combines can keep working.”
The Robydome system was supplied and installed by BK Grain Handling Engineers at Froxfield, near Marlborough; a company David has dealt with for more than 20 years. He’s in good company, too – BK holds a Royal Warrant, in recognition of its work involving the installation of grain storage facilities on the Windsor estate.
David contacted BK Grain, which has many years’ experience in the provision of grain drying and storage solutions, together with turnkey projects throughout the UK. The company recommended Robydome, which was duly installed across the Grafton storage sites, and assisted in the development of the new set-up.
The company’s Simon Bird explains how the self-contained WTM-1 smart box works: “Located in the grain store, it’s linked to wireless temperature probes and the store’s ventilation system. All the information vital to the management of store conditions is available immediately – and in real-time, with a straightforward web-browser page to check and implement changes.”
An additional benefit the Robydome brings is that a single control point is able to manage up to 8 grain stores, each with up to 32 temperature sensors, while the way it’s designed means that the challenges which might be imposed by dust and humidity when employing a static computer point in the store are eliminated.
In multi-site situations, the system can be fully integrated to operate from the farm office, or any other location. Significantly, all the historical records from each individual grain store location are held on the farm’s own box as opposed to a remote server.
The timeline of grain in store has always been difficult to manage, so one of the principal targets in the development of this system was that it should have the ability to monitor progress as grain temperatures cool at individual points across the storage facilities. This means that any hotspots are quickly identified and action taken automatically. Another valuable feature is the automatic sending of an email alert if any danger levels are reached.
‘Super-localised’ weather data boosts farm’s operations
A Cambridgeshire grower has invested in wireless weather station technology to help him improve farm efficiency by precisely monitoring weather conditions at field-level, to aid operational decision-making and measure weather impact on crop performance.
James Robinson of Measures Farms, near Hemington, Cambridgeshire purchased two weather stations from Sencrop, a European digital start-up business with a new base in Cambridge, to use on his home farm and on an outlying farm, 20 miles away near Pickworth, Rutland. Across the two sites James farms over 1,600ha with a mix of combinable crops, including wheat, barley, oilseed rape and winter beans.
James didn’t have a weather station prior to installing the Sencrop system in December 2018, and just recorded rainfall in a manual rain gauge at each site. This was not very efficient and didn’t provide any information on other weather conditions such as wind or temperature.
“After we acquired the Pickworth site two years ago it made sense to have more reliable information about weather conditions, without having to drive 20 miles to collect it,” says James.
The two Sencrop wireless weather stations record wind, temperature, humidity and rainfall. The information from each station is transmitted digitally, in real time, to a user-friendly dashboard accessible on James’ desktop or through the Sencrop app on his mobile phone. Not only can he see the live weather data from his two stations at any time day or night, he can also see weather history (from the stations), alerts, trends and seven-day forecasts to help him plan ahead.
“Having live weather data is really helping to inform our management decisions on farm,” says James. “Knowing what the weather is doing at the two sites, and likely to do in the near future, helps us plan operations such as spraying and fertiliser application, where wind speed and rainfall are critical. The system is pin-point accurate – no need to rely on a forecast from several miles away – this gives me live information from the field where the station is installed.
“Day-to-day it’s improved our operations. For example, the weather can be quite different 20 miles away, and if its calm in Hemington, it could be fairly windy at Pickworth. Knowing that its too windy to spray at Pickworth prevents an unnecessary trip, saving time and fuel.
“Reviewing the rainfall at each site also helps assess whether certain operations can be carried out, for example if ground conditions are too wet you can’t use heavy machinery like tractors and sprayers. With different soil types at each site, we can make a decision as to whether it’s worth making the trip or not. In the future it may help us make decisions on seed drilling operations too.
“Having super-localised weather data is really helpful and I’d consider putting in another station within eight miles of the main site. We’re on fairly high land at Hemington and we have some land around 40m lower, where the soil temperature and weather conditions can vary considerably. It would be interesting to have another base station there to help us monitor what’s going on.”
An optional feature on Sencrop stations that James currently isn’t using is the collection of soil moisture and soil temperature data. He says, “This data would be useful for timing the application of soil-acting herbicides in the autumn, where you need the soil to be a certain temperature and moisture level for them to work. At the moment I rely on the product manufacturer’s website – they monitor soil temperatures and give an indication when conditions are suitable – but I’d consider upgrading my Sencrop system in the future if I needed greater accuracy.”
Harvest time is notoriously sensitive to the British summer weather and this year James is looking forward to knowing where rain is falling during the day and over the week, to help him manage his harvest operations and cultivations.
But its not just live weather data that’s useful. James says. “At the end of harvest when you’re looking at your yield data it’s really useful to review the weather data through the year too. We can look at when significant rainfall events occurred, how much sunshine we had, and what the temperatures were like at certain times of the year, to see how they affected yield.”
As well as monitoring live conditions and providing weather history, the real power of the Sencrop system comes through the collaboration of neighbouring farmers sharing their weather data. By connecting their Sencrop weather stations in a local network this enables farmers to benefit from a much wider pool of weather event data, such as rainfall, to help them further improve their operational efficiency.
Sencrop’s aim is to create real value from the extensive data collected by its stations that will benefit the whole agricultural community. Farmers, agronomists, contractors, research organisations, insurers and industry suppliers could in the future have access to more effective, faster and automated distribution of services and advice, tailored to specific, individual needs.
Sencrop has operated in Europe since 2016 and has over 5,000 farmers and growers using the network to aid their decision-making and manage their operations. The company entered the UK in November 2018 and set up its base in Cambridge. To date, over 100 stations have been installed in the UK and the network is growing fast, as more famers like James see the benefits of weather data collection and sharing.
James is keen to benefit from this shared pool of data once there are some local farmers using the system. “On a day-to-day basis it would be helpful to see what rainfall patterns are occurring locally. Sometimes during the year showers can be very localised and it is really useful to know where rainfall is occurring close to you. We often make decisions during the day in response to changing conditions, so being able to see live data on rainfall and wind direction an hour away from the site helps you assess whether or not you’re likely to get that rain.”
Sencrop is helping its customers in the UK benefit from the system through a WhatsApp group. Farmers can ask questions of other users, get insights and tips, and quickly get help from Sencrop if something goes wrong. “I think it’s great; farmers can be accused of being very insular and not wanting to share information, so things like the shared weather data via Sencrop is opening farmers up to sharing more, and the WhatsApp group has been helpful too,” says James.
An integrated solution to protect stored grain
Lodi UK, has launched an integrated pest and disinfection solution which protects stored grain by controlling insects, moulds, spores, mycotoxins and bacteria. This dual
approach features two smoke-type products, both of which are highly effective, economical and can be used either individually or together to save time.
Phobi OPP, a brand new, unique fungicidal, bacterial and virucidal disinfectant smoke, is very effective, easy to use and should form an integral part of a pre-harvest disinfection and pest control program for grain stores, says the company. The product contains orthophenylphenol, an antifungal agent and preservative found in lemons, which provides a proven minimum 99.9 per cent control of fungus and moulds including aflatoxins, the most harmful type of mycotoxin. Each Phobi OPP generator produces up to 250g of dry, non-corrosive smoke, which will treat up to 450m3 and reaches all areas of the grain store, including the cracks and crevices which otherwise harbour spores and pests.
Moulds growing in grain stores and on grain are one of the great concerns for farmers and store operators because they can produce highly-poisonous food-borne mycotoxins whose effects are acute, explains Lodi UK. Some mycotoxins cause severe illness soon after consumption of contaminated food products, while others have major adverse effects on long-term health. Exposure to mould spores causes more farmers and farm workers to become ill than almost any other risk in agriculture, so preventing mould growth in stored grain bulks is the single most effective way to manage this important human health issue.
Phobi Smoke Pro 90C utilises a highly active pyrethroid insecticide with proven knock-down activity to provide excellent, long-lasting protection against a range of key stored grain pests found in the UK. For professional use in empty grain stores, the Phobi Smoke Pro 90C generator produces 93g of smoke which contains 6.975 per cent cypermethrin and penetrates normally inaccessible areas where pests can otherwise easily hide. Each generator will treat a 525m3 space and is approved for use against red-dust flour beetles, saw-toothed grain beetles, Indian meal moths, grain mites and grain weevils.
Preventing insects and mould growth in stored grain is also vital in managing grain quality and financial returns. Lodi UK estimates that following best practice could save farmers £20-£30/t in terms of helping to prevent grain consignments failing to meet contract specifications.
The company’s managing director, Roger Simpson states: “While good store management and correct cleaning can help prevent grain pests and moulds these methods can only go so far. Farmers and store operators must therefore have effective additional control measures in place to prevent, eliminate or reduce hazards to an acceptable level.”
Electrical and mechanical farm solutions
Visitors to agricultural shows with an interest in post-harvest solutions may have seen the Gibbons Agricultural stand and its Plug&Cool pedestals and laterals, crop conditioning fans and its packaged solution to grain storage the Plug&Cool Barn System.
However Gibbons can also provide a complete range of farm services.
Forming one division of an engineering company with 50 years’ experience means Gibbons Agricultural has a host of expert engineers on hand to provide a huge range of services from wiring, door controls and lighting to panels, pumps and electric motors.
When there’s so much to do during the day-to-day running of a farm, having a single point of contact for electrical and mechanical works makes life simpler for busy farmers, says Gibbons.
Staff from the Gibbons Agricultural team will be on hand to answer questions about the company’s products and services at this year’s Cereals event where they will be on stand 956.
Direct drill conversion coulters
Minimal disruption is the key to direct drilling, advises wearing parts manufacturers JJ Metcalfe & Son.
Roots and a healthy worm population will take care of aerating and draining the soil, and nutrients will come from the use of cover crops and crop rotation. This no till approach also helps prevent black grass establishment by leaving dormant seeds buried well below the surface, unable to germinate, it says.
With the above in mind, the company has designed its range of tungsten carbide tipped, low disturbance direct drill coulters.
Designed to fit Seedhawk drills or innovatively convert Horsch CO and Sprinter series, Simba freeflow and now the Amazone Cayena drills into direct drills the J.J. Metcalfe and Son coulters have a narrow, replaceable tungsten carbide-tipped blade. This blade cuts through the soil retaining the organic matter on the surface and posing minimal threat to the worm population. The blade cuts a slot to place the seed directly beneath the residues of the previous crop, leaving no surface disturbance, says the company.
Priced at £78 per unit, the company says it is providing an affordable step into direct drilling and maintaining soil health, which should in turn increase crop yield.
Does your bowser meet industry standards?
The end is in sight for old diesel bowsers with a 15 year transition period ending on 9th May. This means that bowsers manufactured prior to May 2004 are no longer treated as intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) for the transport of dangerous goods (including diesel and gas oil) on the highway, explains fuel storage equipment specialist Fuel Proof.
This transitional period was originally put in place to allow the industry time to adapt to new Accord Dangereux Routier (ADR) regulations, essentially governing the transport of dangerous goods by road.
The key point to note is that the old bowsers were previously considered as IBCs (provided they met certain basic requirements), but from 10th May this will no longer be the case, meaning these bowsers can no longer be used to transport fuel on the highway and need to be replaced with ADR compliant IBCs.
For a limited period Fuel Proof will be offering a scrappage scheme for non-compliant bowsers.
Grain dryer installation and maintenance
As main dealers for South East Scotland and Northumberland, John Thorburn & Sons offers a range of Opico grain dryers as well as a full installation and maintenance service.
The company also stocks a full range of spares, which are available nationwide on next day delivery, while its service technicians can provide pre-harvest servicing along with repair and maintenance during the drying season.
It also offers the latest continuous flow dryers incorporating traditional strengths with improved features. These include the ability to adjust every setting so that the dryer can be matched to the drying conditions for optimum results.
“We are the agents for the UK market’s established manufacturers of continuous flow dryers and with many dryers from 10-40tph complete with mechanical handling equipment installed on farms throughout South East Scotland and Northumberland, we can provide a full package of advice on planning installations,” says the company.
Staff are skilled in repair and maintenance, stock a full range of spares and also offer a pre-harvest service. Grain handling plant and equipment from the UK’s leading manufacturers are also supplied, installed, repaired and maintained.
Safe and cost-effective pest control for stored grain
The bulk storage of grain can provide ideal breeding conditions for pests, says specialist company Pest Fumigation Ltd, which offers a safe and cost-effective fumigation service for agricultural businesses.
An infestation is often hard to detect in the early stages, with very low concentrations of insects, it says, and even a single insect in every kg of wheat will mean that a lorry load of grain can still introduce tens of thousands of pests into a storage facility.
Grain fumigation can provide the answer at an early point in the cycle, eliminating even very low initial levels of pest infestation. Pest Fumigation Ltd supports farmers (stack and silo fumigation), millers (bin fumigation), logistics firms (shipping and containers) and importers/exporters. The use of phosphine gas, generated from aluminium phosphide, allows the safe fumigation of foods, without harmful residues.
The stored grain is first covered with a plastic sheet, and then gas is allowed to permeate through the commodity for around 10-14 days (with exact duration dependent on temperature), explains Pest Fumigation Ltd. Not only are adult pests killed, but also eggs. It means that grain fumigation is a very effective way to counteract weevils, moths, beetles, mites and any other stored food pests – including sawtooth grain beetle, foreign grain beetle, fungus beetle and flour beetle.
Based in Bristol, and with 20 years of experience, Pest Fumigation Ltd says that it offers a proven fumigation service for farmers and the trade across England and Wales.
Compliance with all relevant regulations and safety standards is central to all fumigation projects conducted by Pest Fumigation Ltd and its operators are fully trained and certified with the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), the UK’s leading trade association for pest control.
Pest Fumigation Ltd says that growers wishing to get more information on the control of pests in their stored crops ahead of this harvest, can visit the company’s website or call for advice.
Mechanising a simple task can save hours
Finding a mechanical alternative to hand-sweeping can save hours of time at busy harvest time.
Wessex International, manufacturer of the Broomex C-Broom says that with its system, one man can do the work of five hand-sweeping for an hour.
The Broomex ‘push broom with a twist’ incorporates all the benefits of the Broomex push broom while providing a bulk volume mover for shifting large quantities of grain in a grain store. The C-Broom is a heavy-duty push broom with patented side retainers that hold bulk volumes of material in front of the brush, while avoiding spillage at the sides.
The simple design can save time in a few different ways, says Wessex. First the brush is quickly and easily mounted to the vehicle. Secondly the avoidance of spillage means there’s no need to go over swept areas to clear spill lines. Equally important in the careful twisting of the end brushes is the fact they pull material away from a wall or kerb to keep it in the main path of the broom. Add in the fact that there are no motors, belts or chains involved and no flying debris and the C-Broom is a time-saver that’s also maintenance free. When not being used for sweeping grain the Broomex can be used for moving slurry and other bulky materials.
The Broomex C-Broom comes in 1.5, 1.8 and 2.4m widths with a whole range of applications for farming, landscaping, warehouse and distribution sites and snow clearance.
New direction for combine development
The Massey Ferguson Ideal combine line-up offers the biggest integral grain-tank capacity now available on the European market, the fastest unloading rate and the largest threshing area, according to the manufacturer.
It is the biggest new harvesting product development project Agco has undertaken. Everything about the machine is new from design and engineering to brand new features and styling.
The range features three brand new combine models with single and dual rotary threshing systems – the 451hp MF IDEAL 7, 538hp MF IDEAL 8 and 647hp MF IDEAL 9 – plus ParaLevel versions. Other features include fuel-efficient engines, 140 and 210-litres/sec unloading rates. The range also boasts narrow transport width with even the largest MF IDEAL 9 using 800mm tyres or 660mm inhouse-designed tracks, expanding the potential for width-regulated farmers. The new super-comfortable and quiet ‘Vision’ cab has panoramic visibility while the MF PowerFlow table offers widths up to 12.2m providing superb crop collection, says the manufacturer.
The business benefits made possible by the new MF Ideal combines include improved fuel efficiency, grain quality, residue management, soil compaction, ease-of-use, quick operation and dealer back-up.
To book your demonstration or for details of open evenings contact Jamie at Thurlow Nunn Standen 07824 491925.