Grain bin technology continues to evolveFor farmers, the rush of grain emptying from an auger into a storage bin marks the culmination of a season’s worth of hard work.
But harvesting is only half the battle. Stored grain is constantly under threat from moisture, insects, mold and heat, which can cause spoilage—resulting in thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
With so much on the line, some farmers are turning to grain monitoring technology to ensure their crops make it to market in peak condition.
“The technology had been around for a few years, but it’s only now starting to catch on,” said David Sundlie, an Edmonton-based sales manager for the Flaman Group of Companies, which sells grain bin monitoring systems.
“Most farmers, once they become comfortable with the technology, see the value of bin monitoring,” explained Sundlie. “For the value of what’s in the bin— and we’re talking between $100,000 and $400,000, depending on the size of the bin—investing a couple hundred dollars to buy monitoring equipment just makes sense.”
Grain bin monitoring systems track temperature and moisture. If there’s a problem in the bin, whether it’s crust forming on the grain, drying or disease, it generally shows up as a change in one of the two conditions.
In order to get a complete picture of bin conditions, bin monitoring includes a series of cable sensors at various locations inside the bin. The sensors, which are either suspended from the roof of the bin or anchored into the walls, relay data to a monitor or a hand-held display terminal.
With accompanying software, the system can also track long-term trends, identify problem spots in the bin and alert the user when conditions fall outside the norm.
“If a section of the bin is heating up, for example, a farmer can take appropriate steps, such as turning on the bin’s aeration system, taking loads out or turning over the grain,” said Sundlie.
Greg Stamp—a seed farmer near Enchant and Alberta Barley region one director—has used temperature monitors in his grain bins for more than a decade.
He said the key to using the technology effectively is to make it part of the regular routine.
“We do weekly monitoring, record the temperatures and compare them to previous readings,” said Stamp. “If you forget to do it, or it’s not someone’s job to do it, you could have a wreck on your hands and not even know it.”
Grain monitoring technology has also caught the eye of Canadian tech start-ups. Last summer, Saskatchewan-based IntraGrain unveiled BinSense, one of the first wireless bin monitoring systems. BinSense uses sensors connected by wire to battery-powered routers mounted on the top of each bin. A master unit periodically collects information from all the routers and transmits the data via cellular network to IntraGrain’s database, which customers can access online.
IntraGrain president Kyle Folk, who grew up on a farm near Saskatoon, developed his remote monitoring technology for a business competition in 2011, after his farmer father lost some grain to spoilage.
Folk said he believes farmers are ready to embrace high-tech solutions to grain storage problems, so long as they work.
“From my experience, farmers are used to using technology. It’s in the combines, on the tractors and in the sprinkler systems—everywhere,” he said. “The crux is that the technology has to be practical and easy to use, and it actually has to save time compared to doing it the low-tech way.”