Count the cost of drying grain

With one of the wettest harvests on record this year Dominic Kilburn counts the cost of drying grain.

Rain, rain and more rain. Even the low-lying folk of the East have given up their farming in near 'desert-like' conditions tag, while sodden, un-harvested, crops in late October were a common sight in northern England and Scotland.

As a consequence of the weather, grain drying bills landing on the office desk this autumn may have provided a wake-up call to growers not normally aware of the time or money they spend drying their grain.

To compound the misery of the incessant rain, there's that old chestnut - the cost of diesel - and the recent increased pressure to reduce grain moisture levels below the 15% mark, particularly for grain bound for export.

Options on grain drying are many but here we focus on mobile drying, co-operative and contract drying, as well as a snap-shot of a continuous-flow drier installation - but which one for you and at what cost?

The Mobile Drier
Harvest on Middlegate Farm began in July and finished in October this year. And Tony Higgins, of W J Higgins & Son, near Langport in Somerset, reckons to have had only one fine week of weather in all that time.

Mr Higgins has had his latest 12 tonne an hour Opico 600 mobile drier for three seasons now having previously owned the 580 (also 12t/hr) version. "The old machine gave us such good service and as we were all set up to operate Opico driers it seemed sensible to go for the same make," he says.

Mr Higgins farms 550 acres of his own land and whole farm contracts a further 500. Cropping includes wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, beans and linseed.

He says that in the past few months he's never seen so much water run off the land - ironically free-draining brash - and as a consequence 90% of the wheat harvested this season was put through the drier with moisture levels in the range 16-22%.

The latest drier differs from its predecessor by being fully automatic. This, says Mr Higgins, reduces labour costs to a bare minimum and increases the output of the drier.

Two augers feed in the grain - the first from a large capacity pit and the second has grain heaped upon it. "Before, the old drier would have to cool then be emptied, then re-filled but this one you just pile up the grain and leave it to it," he says.

This harvest the drier operated for 730 hours, working 24-hours a day, drying over 2800 tonnes of wheat and barley - 1000 of which was his own and the remainder contract-dried for customers.

There was also a small amount of linseed. Maintenance has been minimal on the drier with a bearing charge in the main auger drive being the only casualty of the harvest.

The drier is fuelled by gas which Mr Higgins says produces a cleaner burn and avoids the jets sooting up compared with a diesel-powered machine.

Total cost for gas was £7641 this season and £730 for electricity. With the capital investment in the drier spread over 10 years, Mr Higgins writes off a sum of £3000 plus interest in this season's costs. He also adds into the equation 10p a tonne on both labour and drier maintenance -

Drying Costs - Middlegate Farm

Cost per tonne

£

gas

2.66

electricity

0.25

labour

0.1

maintenance

0.1

capital investment

 

plus interest

1.65

 

 

Total drying costs

4.76

Over the course of the season Mr Higgins says that the drier has earned £20,000 both through drying customers' grain at anything from £6.75 - £9.00 a tonne and by contract charging his own farm at a figure of £6 a tonne. "By operating this system the cost of the drier is nicely covered," he says.

He does however emphasise the fact that his drying figures stack up because of the tonnage he is pushing through the drier.

"To justify the machine you need the acerage to keep the drier going 24-hours a day, or the price starts to escalate."

As an example Mr Higgins quotes his same operation but with the drier operating for 365 hours a season - £6.21 a tonne, or just 182 hours a season - £7.86 a tonne.

Article reproduced by the kind permission of Dominic Kilburn - Arable Farming December 9th 2000.