By DOUG SCHMITZ
HUBBARD, Iowa — While many farmers were hoping to avoid drying down grain this year, company officials at D & B Agro-Systems, Ltd. in Hubbard are seeing the exact opposite: A good deal of the crop downed by winds that will need to be dried.
“We continue to see strong interest in grain dryers,” said Steve Doering, general manager, in a late July interview. In fact, his company sold three dryers that week alone.
As Midwest farmers are thinking harvest and how they’ll handle their drought-damaged crops, they’ll also need to consider the efficiency and safety of their grain dryers for the crops they can savage this fall.
But despite drought-damaged crops, for farmers who don’t dry their grain at their local elevators, Doering said the actual procedures will vary from dryer to dryer on their operations, and will depend on whether or not the unit received post-season maintenance.
That’s why the first step to proper grain dryer care, maintenance and safety is cleaning inside the dryer, clearing away fines from screens, as well as any animal nests and other blown-in debris, along with dirt and dust that may have accumulated, he explained.
“Because rodents love coatings on wires, inspect all wiring for rodent and pest damage and debris,” he said. “Proper end-of-season dryer cleanout will reduce the lure of food inside the dryer to attract rodents in the first place.”
Once dryers are thoroughly cleaned, Doering said farmers need to perform the following maintenance and safety checks:
1. Replace missing and damaged safety decals.
2. Check the dryer’s manual and perform all recommended system checks, checking components for wear and tightness.
3. Check for loose electrical connections that can cause overheating and erratic operation.
4. Examine all rubber hoses and gaskets, and replace as needed.
5. Check all moving and rotating parts for vibration, wear or damage and lubricate as needed (i.e., blower bearings, motors and gearboxes).
6. Inspect and clean the gas line strainer.
7. Clean the burner with a liquid soap solution, clearing plugged orifices.
8. Check for plumbing leaks, inspect the plumbing train every two weeks and drain the plumbing and pilot lines.
9. Use pipe joint compound on pipe threads when replacing the plug. It may be necessary to clean these each week or more often, as fuel quality in some areas is poor.
10. Check for and correct gas leaks around plumbing fittings, especially on high-pressure vaporizer lines.
Moreover, since air temperature and relative humidity fluctuate in autumn, corn – especially in Iowa – will typically dry to 12-13 percent moisture content (m.c.), if adequate airflow and time are available to remove the moisture, according to Iowa State University’s Farm Energy Initiative (FEI).
“Harvested corn often requires artificial drying to lower m.c. for safe storage into next spring and summer,” read a May 2012 FEI publication. “Although much artificial drying in Iowa is done with high-temperature LP (propane) or natural gas dryers, some corn is dried with natural-air or low-temperature systems.”
Most importantly, corn harvested above 21 percent m.c. is typically not suitable for low-temperature drying with commonly-used airflow rates and normal Iowa weather, the publication continued.
For continuous-flow dryers, the temperature can be in the 180- to 220-degree Fahrenheit range, while a batch-type dryer will normally use a temperature of about 140 degrees, according to a North Dakota State University agricultural engineering department checklist.
In regulating bin dryers, Charles Hurburgh, ISU professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and professor-in-charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, said since they typically have a string mechanism in them, farmers should make sure the track is level to help prevent breakdown.
Overall, Hurburgh said the primary risk with grain dryers is fire, as opposed to storage bins, especially “running the dryer hotter than it was intended to be.” He said grain dryer companies will often service on-site dryers for farmers. “It’s better to do that than do it themselves,” he explained.
With more 60-degree nights, Hurburgh said farmers “will be pretty much out of the woods,” but the “sheer increase in grain volume has a lot to do with whether you need more drying time,” which “may not be much of an issue this year.”