Precision auto drying is a welcome advance for premium crop grower

An automatic control system for grain dryers launched at the CropTec event is proving a hit with growers wanting to hit moisture content targets accurately and consistently.

The Dryer Master software builds up a digital record of a particular dryer’s performance characteristics during manual operation and then uses that ‘experience’ to operate it automatically.

Precision sensors that compensate for grain temperature measure the moisture content of incoming wet grain and outgoing dried grain, and the control software adjusts the ‘residence time’ that crop spends within the dryer to achieve an average target moisture level.

“This isn’t a ‘set and forget’ system, we advise users to continue to monitor the dryer and recalibrate the system routinely to check that the target set-point is achieved,” says Barry Higginbottom of Kentra. “But it does remove a lot of the guesswork involved in drying when moisture content shifts during the day, and whoever is in charge of the dryer has more time to spend on other aspects of store and harvest management.”

Both of those attracted Hamish Campbell to the system installed last year at Swell Buildings Farm near Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire because with crops from two neighbouring farms to handle, as well as those grown for premium markets on the home farm, he has a fair workload to contend with.

The 21-year old Kentra continuous flow dryer tackles Mr Campbell’s 1000-1500 tonnes of milling winter wheat, a similar amount of malting spring barley, and 1500-2000 tonnes of winter oilseed rape grown for the family’s R-Oil business producing a cold-pressed and filtered extra virgin dressing and cooking oil.

“We supply it to retailers and catering establishments as a high-quality product with a low saturated fat content of just 6%, which is less than most olive oils at around 14% and sunflower oil 10%,” explains Hamish Campbell. “It is also a source of linoleic acid, which is converted to the important Omega oils that contribute to good health, and it also tastes pretty good as a salad dressing.”

There is also the R-Oil Liquid Gold product for the equine market, where the rapeseed oil is supplied as a feed supplement.

Cold pressing is an attractively natural alternative to using heat or solvents to release the oil but extraction rates are not as generous.

“Moisture content appears to be a significant factor with 7% being a key target in our experience,” says Mr Campbell. “So the nearer we can get to 7% moisture when drying the crop, the more oil we get from our harvest.”

Dryer management takes skill and intuition to get the job right, and when premium crops are involved, the need to understand an individual dryer’s performance and response to adjustments is critical.

“Fortunately, my father was a stickler for keeping detailed records when he ran our dryer, so I had a lot to go on when I took over and built up my own experience,” says Hamish Campbell. “But now I’m very excited that we have new technology to bring a higher level of precision to drying, through the Dryer Master control system we had installed this year.”

Experience so far is relatively limited because the unit was not installed before the 2017 oilseed rape harvest was completed and all the spring barley came in under 13% moisture.

But it did handle all the wheat and consistently hit 13.8%, 13.9% or 14% – bang on the target – as checked using the ring-tested meter that sits in Hamish Campbell’s store control room.

“It was brilliant, I have to say,” he comments. “We didn’t get to use the Dryer Master all harvest but my experience of it so far is very encouraging.

“We’ve seen all these precision farming developments, such as GPS, variable rate seeding and big advances in spraying but drying, which is critical to achieving the best possible return from the crop we’ve invested so much in, has been the poor relation.

“Now we appear to have something that takes drying to a new level of accuracy,” says Mr Campbell.

Kentra Grain Systems will feature the Dryer Master system on its stand at The CropTec Show on 28th and 29th November 2018.

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