Choose grain dryer to suit needs
With low grain prices, cost-cutting measures take higher priority than usual. What can be trimmed or eliminated? What can be done more efficiently? Grain dryers are a good place to start trimming because they can pull a lot of unnecessary energy.
Selecting a new grain dryer may be the answer to reducing the farm’s fuel consumption and keeping the energy budget in the green, says Rodie Jelleberg, customer service manager for Superior Manufacturing Co. He meets with customers to provide grain handling solutions. Since Superior purchased Excel grain dryers three years ago, Jelleberg has taken an active role in research and development, and was the key designer for the gas train and electrical system.
“Thorough research helps determine which dryer will best suit each operation long before pouring a concrete pad,” he notes. “Consider grain quality, energy efficiency, minimal maintenance, easy expansion capabilities and safety features, which all contribute to one objective — reaching the highest return on investment.”
2 basic dryer designs
Farmers tend to rely on one of two dryer designs to consistently dry grain for the highest bushel payment. Cross-flow dryers are the most widely used continuous flow dryers. Typically found in a tower dryer, this method uses a central heating chamber in the middle of the unit, and the grain fills in around the burner.
Its high temperatures work to dry grain quickly by forcing the hot air through the grain from the inside out. While effective at drying grain quickly, tower dryers tend to be less consistent due to the heating design, with kernels near the heater becoming overdried and those near the wall being underdried.
In contrast, mixed-flow dryers heat grain more slowly but at equal, consistent rates that reduce the potential for stress cracking, says Jelleberg. Heat is pushed through alternating rows of heat and exhaust ducts, conditioning the grain from both sides to keep it the same temperature throughout the process. The consistent, tempered heat from the under fans ensures grain isn’t underdried or overdried.
Reduce energy costs
Fuel efficiency plays a key role in getting the best return on investment. For example, continuous mixed-flow dryers require less energy to operate than a tower dryer, but generally have a higher price tag up front. Growers will notice a faster return on investment with the mixed-flow dryer, which is 10% to 20% better than a cross-flow tower dryer for fuel efficiency, according to the Farmstead Energy Audit by North Dakota State University Extension.
Another consideration when choosing the best dryer for a strong ROI are various farm grants that are available. The Rural Energy for America Program with USDA Rural Development can offset initial dryer costs by as much as 40%. Work with your equipment dealer, manufacturer or local USDA office to learn more about eligibility. Ideal candidates are those farmers struggling with wornout or inefficient equipment. Typically, this requires completing an energy audit, which includes gathering statistics on how much energy was saved after switching to a new unit.
Plan for expansion
It’s also important to not be shortsighted when choosing a new dryer, says Jelleberg. How many bushels are dried with your current grain drying operation, and will the same size dryer fit needs in five years? Consider how easy or difficult it may be to expand a drying system as the farm grows.
For a tower dryer, growers can select the model needed and then, months or years later, add modules to dry more grain bushels on the farm. Once ready, this requires purchasing numerous components to complete the expansion. For example, a fan, heater controls and burner must be added in addition to the new modules.
With the mixed-flow dryer, growers can work with the manufacturer to equip the dryer with motors and electrical components required for the most tiers that would be needed. For example, growers can start with 10 tiers, for a 1,400-bushel capacity, but select the motor and electrical components suited for a 26-tier unit. “This significantly reduces the cost and time spent to upgrade the dryer later,” says Jelleberg.
Don’t get burned
Everybody knows how dangerous dryers can be. It’s critical to select a dryer with safety features that prevent fires as well as reduce risk of injury and machine damage. Look for a dryer that features a true-piloted gas train, which prevents the pilot light from reigniting when the main flame goes out, which could cause the dryer to fill with gas and potentially cause an explosion.
Consider choosing a flame rod rather than a UV sensor for the most accurate flame readings, says Jelleberg. The flame rod converts energy from the pilot flame into an electrical signal, but UV detectors can misinterpret reflected sunlight as the pilot flame. The false alarm causes the burner to open and the dryer to fill with flammable propane gas.
Check with the manufacturer to see if the dryer comes equipped with a liquid gas regulator that ensures a dryer’s vaporizer doesn’t get overloaded with propane, which can foul the air and waste fuel. Also, look for a dryer manufacturer with a design that specifically prevents hot spots from developing in the unit. The concentrated heat of tower dryers allows fast drying but can cause material smoldering. Mixed-flow dryer designs use greater airflow coupled with corner openings to prevent hot spots.
Cleaning and repairing
From easy-to-replace parts to fewer cleaning steps, dryer downtime can be minimized with a mixed-flow design. Tower dryers need routine screen monitoring because corn chaff builds up. While the screens prevent “bee’s wings” from damaging the fans and heaters, downtime for cleaning each week delays drying. Mixed-flow dryers handle use airflow to push chaff out the corner venting.
Prevent downtime by choosing designs with easily accessible components. Check if the serviceable components can be reached without using a ladder.
Find the balance between maximizing technology and ensuring easy serviceability on control panels. Some tower dryers use a programmable logic controller with an easy-to-use touchscreen and remote mobile monitoring. While the interface is convenient, it can result in downtime if it fails since trained technicians and specialized parts will be needed for repairs. On the other hand, some mixed-flow dryer manufacturers build controls with off-the-shelf components that can be easily replaced at a local electrical supply store.
While low grain prices might seem like the time to avoid new equipment purchases, that’s not always the case, says Jelleberg. Some investments can save money and increase profit in the long run.
Source: Superior Manufacturing, North Dakota State University, USDA
This article published in the October, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.