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Grain bin monitors: Money in the bank

Would you trust a bank to keep your money safe if it had a leaky roof, peeling paint, a cracked foundation, and no security system?

Of course not!

Neither should you trust a grain bin that isn’t properly sealed, secured, maintained, and monitored to shelter your profits.

Protecting your investment is easier than ever due to advancements in grain-storage monitoring systems. These new systems faithfully monitor and guard your grain.

Keeping your grain in top condition also means following proper maintenance steps to get these metal banks ready for a cash influx.

Like watchdogs that don’t sleep, today’s grain-storage monitoring systems guard the valuable grain in storage around the clock. Some systems can adjust the storage conditions automatically; some can bark an instant alarm to a smartphone or a computer.

While the fundamentals for storage protection – thermocouples and aeration – haven’t changed for generations, new aids stand guard today to read a variety of signals.

“You can get anything you need to keep grain in good condition,” says Charles Hurburgh, agricultural engineering professor at Iowa State University.

Checking the heat

Temperature-sensing thermocouples on cables are the original and still most popular instruments for checking grain. Most temperature cables use thermocouples evenly spaced bottom to top at intervals of 4 to 6 feet. Ideally, all points in the grain bulk should be within 5 feet of at least one sensor.

A 36-foot-diameter bin is likely to have three temperature cables, each with five or more thermocouples hanging inside the bin. In traditional setups, the cables go out the top of the bin and down the side to a central reading station close to the ground.

Hurburgh advises against putting a cable in the direct center of the bin. “You do want a cable nearby, though,” he says. “The middle is the most likely place for hotspots. Trash and fine material hang in the middle, so aeration is least effective there.”

However, since that’s where the grain hits, a cable in the center receives a lot of wear and is too close to the reclaim opening.

“If I were choosing a thermocouple system, the first thing I would find out is who is going to service me best at my location,” says Hurburgh. “There will be service issues.”

He says, regardless of the brand, you can expect at least one or two thermocouples to quit every year if you have a few bins with temperature cables. One dead thermocouple will produce a blank spot on your report. A bin with several dead spots will need service. Preharvest is the ideal time as cables and sensors should be serviced while a bin is empty.

Moisture challenge

Sensors that read the second major variable in stored grain – moisture – are relatively new on the market. Hurburgh, for one, isn’t impressed. “If you had good control of the moisture going into storage, had uniform moisture, and knew what it was, you don’t really need any more moisture measurement,” he says. From that point, following the temperature patterns inside the bin should be enough. A temperature rise noted by the cables will indicate where grain is going out of condition.

Marty Scudder, with NAB Automation Inc. in Missouri, notes that his company’s moisture-monitoring systems appeal to a very small market.

“It’s not going to tell you the moisture of the grain,” says Scudder. “It only tells you the moisture of the air surrounding the grain. If that’s 2% off and you deliver the grain to market, that’s a big hit to the farm.”

Software options

Most companies in the grain-storage control business offer software for reading the information the systems collect.

“Each one has different features, so shop around,” says Hurburgh. “I’m sure the more sophisticated software is more expensive. Be comfortable with how the data is given to you for the money you want to spend.”

His preference in software  (as an academic and scientist) is that it simply collects data and puts it onto a spreadsheet to interpret. If you prefer data that’s compiled, you might want a system that uses graphs or charts. The important part is being able to monitor changes over time.

Added detection

Beyond moisture and temperature sensors, grain bin monitoring systems are now equipped to sense more factors that affect grain quality.

Multiple systems now have insect detection, which can help control insect populations with early discovery. For example, the Insector 2.5 by OPI-Integris can identify insects by zones.

Weather stations are also used on systems like GSI’s Bin Manager to measure the outside air temperature.

Theft solutions, such as Theft Manager by Intelliair, can be added to monitoring systems as an additional security measure.

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