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Moving 1 Million Bushels

Craig Crone faced a challenge over a decade ago. His farm had undergone a growth spurt over the past 20 years (he began with 1,600 acres and expanded to over 21,000 acres). His grain-handling setup had originally been put up in pieces, and Crone faced the problem of how to get grain to the huge assortment of bins and storage buildings scattered about his Englefeld, Saskatchewan, farmstead.  

Crone also wanted a unified system that was simple to operate. His operation, K&C Farms, is run by a four-person crew that includes wife Pam, father Ken, and mother Cathy. “That’s the crew, plus I’ve got a son and daughter who are 11 and 8 years old,” Crone says.

All told, K&C Farms includes storage for approximately 1,250,000 bushels of grain in approximately 90 storage bins scattered in clusters across “at least 15 acres,” he says.

An intensive amount of research, combined with strategizing with manufacturers, created a system utilizing pneumatic grain transfer that is designed so that the K&C Farms crew doesn’t have to touch the grain from the time it’s dumped at harvest until it’s ready to ship.

Grain bin arrangement
The grain bin setup bespeaks a farm that grew steadily over the years by adding bins according to one plan and then another and yet another. 

“In the main old part of the yard, I’ve got a block of fertilizer storage that I use for grain first thing off the combine. There’s 1,700 tons of fertilizer storage,” Crone says.

A second block of bins holding 73,000 bushels is a work in progress. Pneumatic plumbing is in place to add another three bins, which would increase capacity to about 875,000 bushels. The operation’s Farm Fans dryer, legs, pneumatic system, and wet storage bins are located in the center of the yard. 

The third set of bins is a row of 29 bins located east of the dryer. This set has capacity for 300,000 bushels.

The fourth block of bins is north of the dryer and alternates between grain and fertilizer storage. It holds about 30,000 bushels of grain.
 
Receiving grain
Trucks coming into the yard are unloaded with a set of four Brandt high-capacity 13-inch swing augers that need all 110 feet of reach for the tallest bins. Later, outgoing loads are removed with two Bergen 70-foot self-propelled augers.

Crone and Pam direct harvest traffic, take load samples, monitor bin capacity, keep records, and operate the handling system from a control shed near the dryer. They also use a Palm Pilot to monitor the system when on foot in the yard.

“I know what’s in all those bins as grain is coming in and going out. If I want to fiddle with things, do some mixing or blending, I know what’s in them with a glance at the board,” Crone says.

Crone hires a custom harvester to take off the crop and deliver it. “Usually Pam and I are on the ground here all the time for unloading trucks. Most of the time, two augers can put away the loads coming off of seven combines. I have an extra auger for backup.”
 
Wet storage
When he needs it, Crone has 160,000 bushels of wet-storage capacity in a row of 18 older bins. “I’ve had them for years. They were on concrete floors. I pulled those off the floors and put them on hoppers with aeration ahead of the dryer,” Crone says. “If the grain has to sit some time before I can get it dried, I keep it in condition by running the fans on it. The smaller bins also give me flexibility. If I see some different grades coming in, I can blend ahead of the dryer to improve the grade.”

All loads leaving the farm’s dryer go into a 70-foot Sudenga bucket elevator for distribution to either a pair of 10,500-bushel Sakundiak hoppers or into a pair of 2,200-bushel Westeel surge bins that are gateways to the pneumatic system.  At least 100,000 bushels will be dried directly into the Sakundiak hopper bins during harvest and then delivered to waiting buyers.    

The pneumatic system design
For the remaining dried grain, Crone has a paired Farm Fans pneumatic system with 4-inch pipes. It pushes grain up to 800 feet out to bins. An airlock and 15-hp. electric motor is located below each surge bin. The primary pneumatic lines run parallel to four blocks of storage bins. 

“I can blow into two bins at the same time in the same row, and I can convey that grain anywhere in the yard so I don’t have to load it onto a truck to haul from point A to point B,” Crone explains. “This is the largest system that I can operate with single-phase power. With two blowers coming off the dryer, I have enough capacity so that the system will keep up with the dryer when the grain gets down to less than three points of moisture to be removed.”

The network of pneumatic tubes crosses the yard east or west below ground for about 120 feet, then it goes through distribution boxes and emerges upward to reach the tallest bins. It can unload dry grain into any bin in the system. Every bin and hopper in the system is equipped with a GSI aeration fan and an OPI cable for monitoring temperature. Crone manually plugs in and reads temps at the side of the bins daily, until he’s confident the grain in each one is cooling down for the winter. 

Drying grain
The two wet-storage lines in Crone’s system empty into two Sudenga 10-inch U-trough conveyors that are around 190 feet long. They feed a 40-foot Sudenga bucket elevator that feeds the Farm Fans CF/AB510 dryer. The batch dryer is equipped with a dual plenum for two lines of flow, an automated moisture controller, and a digital control panel. The CF/AB510 is a 220-volt single-phase electric dryer that takes a 255-bushel batch. After drying, it cools each batch in six to 10 minutes.

“I’m at close to three batches an hour if I’m removing three points of moisture or less. At five points of moisture, I’m probably doing two batches an hour. When it’s only one point off, I get nearly four batches an hour,” Crone says.

He budgets for drying up to 25% to 30% of his crop in normal conditions, and he did put that much through the dryer from the 2013 crop. It takes about 20 days. 

“That’s not too bad. If that’s the kind of harvest I’m up against – where it’s never going to test dry and will all come off tough – then it’s likely going to drag out for six weeks to two months anyway,” Crone says.

On auto-batch, the big dryer samples grain as it fills and as it unloads. It uses the data to time the process for the next batch.

Dryer Watchdog
Crone doesn’t leave the drying to chance while he’s away from the dryer. It’s guarded by a new Web-based GSI WatchDog system that alerts him, automatically, if the dryer needs his attention. It was installed in time for the 2012 harvest.

“As long as I’ve got a computer and Internet access, I can do everything remotely that I could do if I were standing at the dryer control panel. I can load or unload, and I can adjust moisture settings, dryer temperature, cooling time, unload time – wherever I am,” he says. 

The investment in the WatchDog system has paid back huge dividends.

“Anytime the dryer shuts down or issues a warning, WatchDog sends me an email. If I’m out in the yard unloading grain, I can’t always see what’s happening at the dryer, and I don’t have time to run over there and look. Instead, I can snap my Blackberry on, and in 10 seconds, I can see what’s happening at the dryer,” he says.

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