Grain condition determines aeration

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
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Growers may be able to achieve a competitive edge at harvest time using a silo aeration system.

However, Aeration Control Australia managing director Henk de Graaf said growers must understand the capabilities of their equipment before expecting clear results.

The Perth-based company's head, Mr de Graaf said it was a common mistake for growers to install fans too small to handle the aeration requirements of large grain silos, and many on-farm storage facilities often did not have access to suitable power to run advanced aeration systems.

However, he said with the right system, growers can control moisture, protein and grain temperature, and deliver a specific product to customer's specification.

Mr de Graaf, in conjunction with CSIRO, has developed an advanced aeration system that closely monitors the condition of the grain, rather than outdoor-air ambient condition or temperature.

He said the grain aeration control system was run by intelligent software that controlled the activation of the aeration fans within the silos.

"Most systems on the market operate with the fans turning on or off, based on the ambient temperatures outside the silos," he said.

"This (aeration) system provides feedback from the grain condition itself.

"Rather than just truly looking at the ambient conditions, we work on the condition of the grain."

Mr de Graaf said a correctly designed and managed aeration system would allow growers to harvest earlier, and longer, often during wet conditions.

"If you have a reasonable size storage site, where you have bulk storage, you can then store the grain on your own farm and, if you want to play the market, you can blend parcels and it gives you that flexibility," he said.

"Aeration systems that keep the temperature down to 17 or 18 degrees also stop weevils from having the ability to reproduce, so once they reach the end of their life cycle they just die off."

Tammin farmer Brad Jones is now into his second harvest using the on-farm grain storage and grain aeration control system.

Mr Jones said the true value of the system was the extension of his harvest window.

"We use it as a management system and we have a true picture of what is contained in our silos. We can manage our moisture so we can protect ourselves against bad conditions, and then we can store it and protect the integrity of the grain, and then extract value back out of it because we can hold the grain for longer," he said.

"It's an accumulation of all those factors."

GRDC has released a publication titled Economics of On-Farm Grain Storage which contains all the relevant questions and equations farmers need to calculate whether grain storage is right for their farm business.

ProAdvice consultant Chris Warrick, who leads the GRDC Grain Storage Extension Project, said the guide would help farmers judge if on-farm grain storage expansion was justified for their situation, or a potentially costly mistake.

"To make a sound financial decision, we need to compare the expected returns from grain storage compared with expected returns from other farm business investments, such has more land, a chaser bin, a wider boomspray, a second truck or paying off debt," he said.

Mr Warrick said the document contained a step-by-step template to help farmers calculate possible financial gains such as from harvest timeliness, reduced marketing costs and direct-to-port grain carting savings.

"The template also contains calculations to work out the fixed costs of on-farm storage, such as the annualised capital costs of the infrastructure, site works, concrete and equipment, as well as the opportunity cost of capital," he said.

"While it's difficult to put an exact dollar value on each of the potential benefits and costs, a calculated estimate will determine if it's worth a more thorough investigation."

The base software for the grain aeration control system starts at $9000.

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