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After two seasons' use, during which time Cheshire farmer Edward Horton calculates that he has put 1400 tons through his OPICO 595QF dryer, there is no doubting his regard for the machine. Not only is its quiet fan environmentally friendly, its Direct Control Monitor (DCM) releases him to undertake other jobs secure in the knowledge that the drying will take place safely and accurately in his absence.

"The OPICO machine we had prior to this one had the DCM on it - its essential," said Mr. Horton. "It monitors the drying operation throughout and at the touch of a button you can see the grain temperature, the temperature of the burner . and if anything goes wrong it will shut it down. Once you have set up the system it will undertake the drying cycle itself, which has proved very useful to us."

The main advantage is that you don't have to stand by the dryer all the time, said Mr. Horton. "Once you have put a load through in the morning, you've generally got an idea of the settings required to dry the grain. It is possible to programme the DCM then and it should dry the grain down to that level throughout the rest of that day."

It is a facility that he readily admits he could not do without. "When I bought the dryer, it was our first priority. Before our first OPICO machine, we were constantly altering pressure gauges and monitoring the dryness of the grain. One load would be 13 per cent, the next load would be 15 per cent. Once you've set the drying temperature on the DCM, it stays consistent."

His second priority was to specify a Quiet Fan model. "That again is a big step forward. Not only is it quieter, it is far more efficient. The fan unit really seems to get the air through and certainly the quietness helps. Although there is still the noise of the tractor driving the machine, you don't really hear the fan at all. Before you could probably hear it from a long way off."

J.E. Horton and Partners farm a total of 740 acres at Weaver View Farm, Little Leigh, Northwich. There are 400 acres of cereals comprising 90 acres of barley, 20 acres of spring rape and the remainder winter wheat. In addition they grow 140 acres of potatoes with the remainder down to grass. This supports a dairy herd of 90 cows, plus some beef cattle and a few sheep. The plan is to sell off the dairy herd this autumn and increase the cereal acreage and the sheep enterprise, which currently consists of 50 lambing ewes.

The 12-ton capacity 595QF is the fourth mobile and the second OPICO machine that Mr. Horton has owned. The previous OPICO machine had a capacity of 9 tons and he decided to upgrade to cope with the volume of grain. "Certainly, if you want to change the capacity, having a dryer on wheels is far more preferable to having one that you have got to unbolt and crane away. So we've been able to change up quite easily," he says.

The dryer is housed next to a building where they can tip a lot of grain on the floor prior to drying. They have the dryer outside but the intake auger is below ground level inside the building. "We can just push the pile of grain over the top of the intake auger and that helps the filling." The dryer does have a roof over it but there are no sides so that the steam, etc can easily escape.

Maintenance has been minimal. They had the burner checked over before the start of the season - and a belt had to be replaced on the loading/unloading auger - "but that's something that happens".

He is more than happy with his drying costs. "This depends on how you can buy your gas; we have a large tank which enables us to shop around. But it's certainly clean and it does seem to dry efficiently."

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