Mobile batch dryer keeping pace with wet crops and drying grain

October 29, 2010 | By FG Machinery Editorial

GRAIN dryers have been busy over the summer, especially in the traditionally wetter parts of the UK, where one mobile dryer has been flat out.

If you thought mobile dryers were just for small farms, then Devon farmer Steve Lee would tell you to think again. With arable operations that cover some 750 hectares (1,850 acres) at Nethercott Farm, Chawleigh he puts almost everything through his 20-tonne capacity Opico Magna 2000 QF Automatic dryer.

“Because of where we are in the country and the rainfall we get, we end up cutting most of our corn wet,” Mr Lee explains. “We have to take our chances while we can, so as soon as moistures drop below 20 per cent we fire up the combine.” Consequently, the farm can end up with big heaps of damp grain piled up at the store, but having a high capacity dryer means there is no worry that things will turn sour.

“My view is that the longer you leave crops standing in the field in the rain, the quicker quality will deteriorate. Once you have got it in the shed you can do something with it – so long as you have got a dryer that will handle it.” It is this philosophy that led Mr Lee down the route of the mobile Opico unit.

Grain handling
With the farmed area having crept up from 280ha (700 acres) to three times that figure over the last 15 years, grain handling and storage was an area that required attention. “When we took on our grain store, it had an old Alvan Blanch continuous flow dryer that trickled the corn through at three tonnes per hour,” says Mr Lee.

“That meant we relied heavily on the drying floor, but it still could not keep up, so three years ago we started looking at the options.” With renovations due on the grain store, Mr Lee was reluctant to invest a large sum in a static dryer and, after some careful research, came to the conclusion a mobile unit was significantly cheaper than a fixed installation of equivalent capacity.

“Unlike a static dryer that is almost worthless when it comes to changing, we know the mobile will hold a good second-hand price so depreciation will not hit us too hard. “That is particularly important when you are putting through as much grain as we are and you are looking to replace the machine on a regular basis.”

Added workload
After three years, the farm’s Magna 2000 QF has clocked an average of 600 hours each season, and it looks like it will be even working more this autumn with 80ha (200 acres) of grain maize to process. Only ripening in late October or November, grain maize will often come off the combine at 30-35 per cent moisture, so for grain store manager Graham Gooding there is a certain knack to getting it dry.

“We run the maize through the dryer twice, the first time we bring it down to 20-22 per cent,” he explains,
“once we have got it to that stage we know it is stable and we buy ourselves some time. “Then we dump in on to the drying floor hot and blow air through it for a couple of days. Once cool the maize is run back through the dryer to squeeze the remaining moisture out.”

With wheat and other more conventional crops, the task is much more straightforward. The Magna’s ‘auto’
function means it can be set to load, dry, cool and discharge completely automatically. In reality, Mr Gooding is on hand most of the time to ensure the 20-tonne holding hopper is kept topped up and dry grain does not build up too much.

“Typically, I will be able to bring a 20-tonne batch of wheat down from 20 per cent to 14 per cent in three to
four hours,” he says, “but with moistures below that it is much faster. In just over 10 hours. I can put through 100 tonnes.” With the dryer parked at the front of the farm’s main dry grain shed, it is able to unload either directly from one chute or drop the dry crop into one of the business’s 20-tonne trailers from another.

But why go for a diesel dryer rather than gas-powered version? With no gas tanks on site, an oil-fired machine was the simple choice for Mr Lee.“With a contracting gang here as well, we have always got plenty of diesel about. We just fill the dryer from the bowser and, should we ever need to move it, we have not got to worry about shifting tanks about.” There is no doubting the Magna’s ability, according to Mr Lee, and with six wet harvests, it looks like another machine will shortly be arriving at Nethercott Farm.

“It seems that our summers are getting wetter and with more grain maize to dry, I am seriously looking at getting another Opico machine to take the pressure off at harvest. It is genuinely the best purchase I have made in the last three years.”

Farm facts
• M.E.L. Lee and Son, Nethercott Farm, Chawleigh, near Winkleigh, Devon
• Farmed area: 750 hectares (1,850 acres) - mostly rented and contract farmed
• Cropping: Winter wheat - 365ha (900 acres), oilseed rape - 100ha (250 acres), spring barley - 40ha
(100 acres), winter beans 138ha (340 acres), grain maize - 80ha (200 acres) and swedes 24ha (60
acres)
• Staff: Seven full-time
• Machinery
• Tractors - JD 6930, 2 x JD 8230, 3 x JD 7530, 2 JD 6830, JD 6320
• Loaders - Merlo 27.7
• Combine - JD S690i
• Sprayer - JD 840i
• Dryer - OPICO Magna 2000 QF Automatic