Faced with a grain drying and handling facilities bottleneck at harvest, one grower created an ambitious plan to improve logistics. Geoff Ashcroft reports...
Those staring at outdated grain drying facilities are often likely to plump for more combine capacity, to take advantage of mother nature and ease in-field pressure.
But for Doug Dear, of Osgodby Grange, Selby, North Yorkshire, a bigger combine was not his first choice for the 405-hectare family farm.
“A larger combine did eventually follow a bigger dryer,” he explains.
“But our first step was to find a way to make crop flow work. And this meant integrating any improvements into our existing buildings.
“We just could not start from the ground up; it was neither practical nor affordable.”
This is because many of the farm’s traditional buildings play host to a beef finishing enterprise under the D&P Custom Feeding banner, which sees Doug and his wife Pam handle about 1,500 head of cattle per year on a 90-day finishing programme.
“We usually house about 700 head at any one time and we have put a lot of effort into getting the yard and cattle races geared towards livestock handling,” he says.
“The stock also provides a valuable source of farmyard manure which contributes to keeping our soils in good health, supporting our yields.”
With the yard’s boundary and existing buildings as the focal point, the Dear family looked to replace its Almet 10-tonnes-per-hour dryer – a machine which was better suited to a 200-hectare workload.
“Using 50-year-old fixed equipment with almost 1,000 acres of combinable crops meant harvest had become stressful. We still have daily cattle duties, and the drying situation was an area which we knew we desperately needed to look at.”
The existing Almet dryer was located in one of the farm’s older buildings and separated from a seven-bay, 1,400-tonne store which was built 20 years ago. While the newer store offered underfloor ventilation for cooling and conditioning, there was no opportunity to add heat.
“The Almet unloaded into a 10t bin which was then emptied into a trailer, moved around the yard and tipped into the 1,400t store,” he says. “Everything was being handled twice.
“We really needed to future-proof any fixed equipment purchases and integrate them with the 1,400t store.”
With the help of Perry of Oakley dealer Thompsons Engineering, combined with the Devon-based Perry team, a plan was put in place. Using the largest store as the starting point, a new drying and handling system was designed to create an opportunity to expand.
It meant a lean-to could be added on both sides of the main store, creating a further 600t capacity, per side. Machinery sheds have been equipped with concrete paneling too, offering temporary storage facilities, if needed.
It meant a 25t/hour continuous flow dryer was placed at one end of the 1,400t store, to allow the building’s full potential to be exploited, without rehandling.
“They dealt with a space restriction for the dryer, and simply re-engineered the structure to move its exhausts to one side of the plenum chamber, rather than straight out the back,” he says.
The M Series 25t/hour dryer links with 60t/hour grain elevators and conveyors, and with programmed routes on the touchscreen controller, Mr Dear says it has become much easier to choose where you want to send the crop.
Kit includes belt and bucket elevators, an aspirator pre-cleaner, plus cross-conveyors and three out loading conveyors which deliver crop into the main store and its lean-to buildings.
A 12-inch touch-screen control panel offers pre-programmed routes, with a failsafe of returning grain to the intake pit.
“We do not have automatic valves in the stores. We still choose to pull handles to open chutes,” he says.
“It creates the opportunity to be involved and see what you are doing. But the control panel does show you which way the valves are set, so you know which ones you need to move, to complete a chosen route.”
A 60t capacity holding bin has also been installed alongside the dryer and an intake pit was created.
To make the most of flow, the intake pit was installed longitudinally, making the tipping point a narrow construction.
“Space was our restriction, but the pit is perfectly adequate,” he says. “With hindsight, it could have been shaped so we could drop a trailer-load and go. Currently, we just open the trailer’s chute and pour.”
Going forward, there are long-term plans to put a roof over the intake pit and the addition of portable concrete barriers to one side of the pit will afford a degree of bunkering, when trailers need to tip and get back to the field.
“We are now going into our fifth harvest with the dryer. After two standard seasons, one very wet and one very dry, it has comfortably handled everything we asked of it,” he says.
“Last summer’s exceptional meant that the dryer’s twin cooling decks were really useful to cool the hot grain coming into store.”
Mr Dear says that in the first season with the system, his dad, Alan – who runs the grain store – soon found himself thumb-twiddling.
“The system had so much capacity and capability, that he had very little to do in the first season. The pressure was then on me, to get cracking with the combine. So I swapped our New Holland CX8.60 and 20-foot header for a Case-IH 9230 Axial Flow with 30ft cut, and now he is busy again.
“I can easily cut 50-60 acres/day, so harvest is not such a long, drawn-out affair,” he says. “We now have options without a bottleneck, and a pair of 16t trailers really help logistics too.”
He says the dryer’s modest 25t/hour capacity also increases considerably when there is little moisture to remove.
“Importantly, with the collective capacity of the combine and the dryer means we do not need to do the long nights during harvest.”