The growing ethanol boom has resulted in the greatest amount of corn planted in the United States in more than 60 years, setting the stage for a record corn crop. USDA reports farmers planted almost 93 million acres of corn in 2007, a 19% increase over 2006. This large crop and strong prices hold great potential for farmers and the rural economy.
To save costs and avoid delays during the upcoming harvest season, farmers are encouraged to check their grain handling and drying equipment to be certain it is properly maintained and working at peak efficiency.
The energy required to power grain dryers is an annual expenditure for many U.S. farmers. It must be carefully assessed based on the selling price of the grain, price of the energy source for drying, and the expected risk of crop losses that can result from a delayed harvest. The propane industry, through investments made by the Propane Education & Research Council, or PERC, works to identify advancements in technology that increase the efficiency of propane equipment, such as grain dryers, to ensure farmers receive the greatest return on their investment.
Propane most popular fuel for grain drying
Approximately eight out of 10 farmers who dry grain choose propane. Propane is an efficient, reliable, and clean-burning fuel. About 90% of all propane drawn from tanks is converted to energy, and the gas will not breakdown or spoil, over time as is the case with other liquid fuels. Since propane is portable, it's an ideal fuel to use on farms. With the addition of a propane generator, grain drying and storage can be accomplished at any location, independent of the electric grid.
"We are always looking for new ways to improve agricultural process and technologies, and we encourage farmers to take steps to get the best results from their current grain drying systems," says Mark Leitman, PERC's director of ag programs. "PERC recommends off-season maintenance checks of grain drying systems to maximize efficiency and minimize downtime. We also suggest working closely with your propane supplier to anticipate your propane needs for the upcoming grain drying season and explore the various pricing agreements that may be available."
How much propane will you need?
The amount of propane used to dry harvested grain depends on the type of grain drying equipment, he notes. Farmers can choose from stand-alone dryers, or fans and heaters that are attached to storage bins.
The average amount of propane needed to dry a bushel of corn depends on the initial moisture percentage of the corn, as well as temperature inside and outside the grain drying equipment. However, on average, a gallon of propane will dry approximately 11 bushels of corn from 24% moisture to 18% moisture, says Jeff Wittek of CHS Inc. CHS is a major supplier of propane to farmer cooperatives in the Upper Midwest and is based in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
"Propane retailers are working on the supply and demand of propane to avoid the headaches and costs associated with the demand resulting from corn drying," said Kevin Williams of CHS. "Farmers can work with their local retailer to set a fixed price solution for grain drying this fall."
Tool can help you estimate propane needs
To assist farmers in estimating their propane demand, PERC has developed an agriculture cost estimator tool available at www.agpropane.com. The tool is also available in hard copy format and can be ordered by calling the Propane Industry Resource Catalog at 866-905-1075.
New advancements in technology also help make grain drying a more efficient process, says Williams. Improvements in the capacity of storage equipment and the reliability of stirring devices allow farmers to dry more grain at one time than in previous years. The introduction of computerized controls with the ability to monitor moisture content and adjust heat levels accordingly has also improved the efficiency of grain drying operations.
"Grain dryer manufacturers have developed several options to make continuous flow, portable dryers more economical, including heat reclaimers and grain inverters," points out Randy Sheley, applications manager with GSI Group Inc., a company that makes and markets grain bins. "Also, the improvements to computerized controls in grain bin dryers have increased their ease of use."
Sheley also emphasizes the importance of proper maintenance for efficient grain drying. This year's large corn crop has increased the amount of equipment that manufacturers have sold and will need to service this fall. Sheley advises farmers to take advantage of preseason service opportunities to avoid the rush of service calls at the beginning of the fall harvest.
He offers a few additional energy saving tips to reduce the cost of grain drying this fall.
Perform a maintenance check prior to the fall harvest to ensure all the equipment is operating properly and at peak performance. Clean screens, aeration floors and fan blades. Check the burner for proper operation.
Avoid overdrying grains. The general rule is that corn should be dried to 15% for sale and 14% for storage. If you know ahead of time if you will sell or store grain, you can determine the necessary moisture content and avoid using excess energy to dry to a lesser moisture content.
Add a stirring device. Stirring will move the corn in the storage unit and increase air flow through the grain.