Grain moisture testers

Agriculture.com Staff 08/04/2008 @ 1:00pm

Moisture is money. It's a statement that is even more critical today than in years past. Rising input costs are forcing farmers to take a new look at grain quality, and moisture is a key factor.

"Marketing is more important now than ever. Farmers need to have quality grain to market when the risk is much higher," says Rich Flaugh, GSF, Inc., Ankeny, Iowa. "A grain moisture tester helps farmers be more in control of their crops, which makes this piece of equipment critical to a farm operation."

Kevin Lynk, who farms in Marshalltown, Iowa, agrees. That's why he invested approximately $2,700 in a DICKEY-john GAC2100 AGRI grain analysis computer two growing seasons ago. Before that, he owned a small handheld unit but wanted a device that offered him more features.

Lynk, who grows corn and soybeans, believes testing his crops with his own moisture tester has saved him money.

"The way everything costs, I don't want to dry any more than I need to. It's one of those things that if you overdry (or underdry), it pays for itself in no time," he says.

Lynk notes that he does a lot of his harvesting on weekends, and sometimes his local elevator may not be open. "Having my own tester keeps me in the field and allows me to get at my crop sooner," Lynk says.

Flaugh says accurate corn moisture measurement can add to your bottom line in four important areas.

1. Grain drying costs. Experts estimate that, on average, it costs 5.5¢ per bushel per point to dry corn from 25% to 15%. It takes more time and energy to remove a point of moisture at 15% compared to 25%. Based on this, the true cost of drying from 15% to 14% can be 8¢ per bushel per point.

2. Shrink discounts. If you deliver corn (or soybeans) to your local elevator or grain processor at a moisture level lower than optimum requirements, you pay a penalty in shrink.

3. Grain-quality discounts. Underdrying grain can lead to spoilage and damage. A bin full of sample-grade grain can wipe out a season's worth of profits. On the flip side, overdrying increases the chance of broken grain and lower quality.

4. Ethanol specifications. The ethanol industry enforces very strict moisture control on incoming corn. Plants typically set a maximum moisture level and discount heavily or simply don't accept corn over their maximum. For example, many Iowa plants will accept 15.9% moisture corn but reject a truck that tests 16.0%.

There are two types of testers. A portable or handheld tester is designed for quick field tests. A bench model, on the other hand, is better suited for testing grain that is to be stored.

"Your local elevator uses a bench model, which means improved accuracy in meeting proper moisture levels," says Flaugh.

If you're using a portable (or handheld) grain moisture tester, make sure the battery is charged. A low battery can cause inaccurate readings. During the long months when the tester is not in use, remove the battery to prevent leakage. The battery should be replaced at least once a year.

Few of us like to read the owner's manual; however, be sure you read and understand the manufacturer's instructions, especially the tester's temperature compensation method.

Grain temperature can have a big effect on moisture readings. Some testers have automatic temperature compensation; some compensate only after you push a button; and others require that you measure grain temperature, then add or subtract a correction factor to the moisture reading.

Cold grain temperatures will usually cause low readings, unless moisture has condensed on the surface. With condensed surface moisture, electronic testers will usually give high readings. Cold grain should be warmed in a sealed container before it's tested.

If you test hot grain from a dryer, that can also be problematic. Electronic testers tend to understate the moisture content of hot or rapidly cooled grain. Grain also loses moisture as it cools. To get the actual moisture content of hot grain, let it cool slowly in a sealed container before testing.

All grain moisture testers show some variability. Different readings can be obtained when the same sample is tested repeatedly. Therefore, you should test each sample at least three times and average the results.

When performing your own test, it’s important to obtain a representative grain sample.

From the field. For combine-harvested grain, some growers harvest a small area and sample the shelled grain. Others handpick and shell grain from several plants and mix together. Hand-shelled samples may not test the same as combine run samples. Whichever method you use, make three moisture tests on this sample and average the results.

From a loaded vehicle. Probe the load in at least two different areas, avoiding the center and corners. Or capture a sample of flowing grain during unloading by passing an open container across the grain stream about every 50 bushels. Pour the collected grain into a bucket and mix thoroughly.

From the bin. Use a 6- or 10-foot probe to collect samples from varying depths (going as deep as possible at the center of the bin and several other areas). Don't mix the samples. Knowing the moisture content at different areas in a bin can help you find the drying front in drying bins or trouble spots in storage bins.

"It's very important to be on the same page as who you're selling your grain to. Farmers need to know where they're at as far as moisture," says Flaugh. "A grain moisture tester is the most important test a farmer will ever take."

Below are five examples of grain moisture tester manufacturers and the models they offer.

Moisture is money. It's a statement that is even more critical today than in years past. Rising input costs are forcing farmers to take a new look at grain quality, and moisture is a key factor.

The first step in measuring grain moisture efficiently is an accurate and easy-to-use measurement tool. The handheld Tri-Grain Moisture Tester displays a direct readout of moisture content and features automatic temperature correction.

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