With the foundations of a successful grain drying and storage system laid by his father 50 years ago, Mark Noble has been able to evolve facilities at Puckshipton Farms to boost output. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
When it comes to harvest, the focus of many farms’ attention tends to migrate to that of combine performance.
But at 450-hectare Puckshipton Farms, near Pewsey, Wiltshire, Mark Noble has taken a different view. And it is a direct result of his father’s foresight in installing ‘sufficient’ grain drying and storage facilities almost 50 years ago.
He says: “We’ve made a few changes to the original installation, to help boost capacity, but the foundations of the system still remain.”
Those early facilities comprised a Jack Olding bin-drying system using three, 35-tonne capacity bins. A diesel-fired burner supplies hot air through a plenum, constructed so it can direct heat to any one, or all of the drying bins.
Once dried, grain is then moved into store using a sequence of elevators and conveyors, enabling grain to be gravity-fed into any of 10 50-tonne capacity storage bins which form the central spine of the building.
“The beauty of the Olding system was we could fill the three drying bins with a total of 100t of grain and set the system running overnight,” he says. “It would remove 1% moisture over a two-and-a-half to three-hour period. I could set time clocks to progressively shut the burner off and then run the cooling fans for a given period.”
He says it has proved a steady system which has worked well for almost 50 years. However, one of the drawbacks of the 10 bins, was their flat floors inside.
“We’ve since added sloping concrete floors inside the bins, so they will pretty much self-empty. You only need to sweep up, rather than shovel a few tonnes.”
The 10 storage bins also make it easy to segregate grain – either by variety or quality.
“We can split-store milling wheat with different Hagberg numbers by making full use of the 10 bins,” Mr Noble says.
With existing floor space in the original building offering a further 400t of storage space, the farm added an additional 500t on the opposite side of the grain store in the 1980s, complete with underfloor ventilation.
This gives two distinct storage areas which flank the central bank of 10 grain bins. It also enables grain to be easily redirected from the central conveyor, projecting beyond the bins and cascading onto the floor space.
But as the farm and its cropping has evolved, so too has the grain drying and storage facilities.
While the Olding bin drying system continues to perform, Mr Noble needed some additional drying capacity. As a result, he purchased a Svegma 25t capacity continuous flow drier two years ago.
“Rather than replace any existing kit, we placed the new drier outside the original building, to keep our options open,” he says. “The Svegma has become the primary dryer, allowing us to use the three Olding bins just for storage; but we also have the option of using everything together for additional drying capacity.”
While installing the new drier, the farm built a new intake pit to replace the original 4t capacity intake. Now with enough volume to empty 12t grain trailers in one go, the new pit has boosted logistics.
“During harvest, trailers are coming in every 20-25 minutes from our New Holland CX 8070 Elevation with 25ft header,” he says. “With the bigger intake pit, we can tip and get back to the field in plenty of time, where previously, we could hold the combine up waiting for trailers to unload.”
The old intake, however, is far from redundant and is used with wet bin storage.
“We positioned a 20t wet bin above the old intake pit, which gives us yet more flexibility,” he says.
“But we really could do with more wet storage. We make do by storing wet grain in trailers and on-floor in an open-fronted barn – but it’s inconvenient. Though it depends on the season, the weather and how we approach harvest.”
For the 2015 harvest, the farm replaced its original Turner cleaner with a second-hand Westrup machine. Offering 25-30t/hour capacity, it is twice the capacity of the previous cleaner and has given a much-needed shot in the arm with throughput.
“We run everything over the cleaner as a matter of course,” says Mr Noble. “The old cleaner just couldn’t keep up with the new dryer. Now, we don’t have a bottleneck.
“And all tailings or other materials are collected and put through a roller mill before being fed to our 150-head of beef cattle.”
Grain leaving the cleaner is also passed over an Avery weighing system, which keeps a cumulative trip count, making it easy for Mr Noble to keep tabs on yields.
“It’s a very accurate system, and it has been recording our grain yields since 1966,” he says. “What it has shown is the combine yield monitor over-reads by 5%.”
Mr Noble says having such effective drying, cleaning and storage facilities does take pressure off the combine.
“We know what we can do with our grain when it comes off the combine, so we can sacrifice a little harvesting output in favour of making sure we get everything in the barn.”
With the main conveyor running through the middle of the original grain store’s roof space, it has been easy enough for the farm to add a second building and extend the conveyor route, to provide additional grain storage.
A recently constructed five-bay barn located at one end of the original grain store offers a further 1,000t of storage capacity. Multiple drop-out points along the conveyor route also make it easy to divert and stack grain to simplify rehandling.
When it comes to loading lorries, the farm has the option of loading by telehandler, or conveying grain back from the storage bins to the dryer.
“There is a discharge point at the end of the main conveyor which sits above the dryer. We can place an articulated lorry beneath the outlet and fill it in 30 minutes.”
Storage facilities at Puckshipton Farms also have the benefit of a low-volume ventilation system. This automated system pushes air through the heaps of grain when ambient air temperature is more than five degrees lower than the temperature of grain in-store.
Combinable crops include wheat, barley and quinoa, which are stored in the main building, with oilseed rape moved when dried, and placed in what used to be a temporary store.
“We eventually converted one of our old livestock buildings to use as a rape store,” he says. “While its location does mean double-handling – we have to move rapeseed by trailer around the farmyard – the volume of rape we harvest is easily manageable.”
While such drying and storage facilities might seem elaborate for a 450ha farm, Mr Noble has gained additional use from drying grain for two of his neighbours.
“We’ve put 600t through the dryer this season for one of our neighbours,” he adds.
For all the sophistication of the system, he says adjusting the dryer to get the best results still requires an element of educated guesswork.
“While you can learn a lot from exhaust temperature, when you make any adjustments, it takes 40 minutes for grain to travel from the top of the dryer to the bottom,” he says. “And a lot can happen in that time, so any adjustments need to be carefully considered.”
“It would be good to see progressive moisture readings on the control box, showing actual grain moisture in each section of the dryer, so you know exactly what’s going on inside.”
This aside, there is no denying grain drying at Puckshipton Farms has evolved into a mature operation.
“We can harvest, dry and store everything we grow, so we’re not forced to sell off grain to free-up storage space in the middle of harvest,” he says.
“So we can watch the markets to ensure we get the best prices we can for all our grain.”