Moisture and Temperature Monitoring
To accurately know what is happening inside your bins, it's important to know both the moisture and temperature of the grain being stored. Charting this data over a period of time allows you to not only monitor for potential problems, but also allows a verification of how the grain is being conditioned throughout the season by the fans. This gives us a look inside, to know that the moisture is coming down, or that we have reached the target storage temperature. Not only does this give you peace of mind about preventing spoilage, but is also the report card for how you are doing with conditioning. A digital sensor is important, as they provide the most reliable data, and do not provide false readings that can cause serious problems like grain elevator explosions.
onsite weather data
One of the newer trends unfolding is the use of internet-based weather forecasts for controlling your fans. Using real-time internet weather can pose some problems, as the readings may not be accurate to your location, but an even bigger problem is that some companies are using a 7 day forecast, and setting up their system on a weekly basis to run on a timer, based on what the forecast is for the next week. You could accomplish something similar with some old Christmas tree light timers hooked to your fans if you really want to cut costs on the system. Obviously, this is a bad idea for lots of reasons. Forecasts change significantly, and basing your aeration decisions on day seven, from data that now a week old, could have you running the fans at the wrong time.
Another important consideration of the system is a plenum sensor. This sensor serves several important functions. First, it measures pressure, so we know that the fan actually came on when the system intended. If a breaker trips on the fan, you could go weeks or months thinking that your fan is running when it actually isn't.
An extreme example of this is pictured here. Since it had a plenum sensor, we knew about this problem right away.
The plenum sensor actually serves another important purpose, since it measures temperature and humidity of the air after the fan, right before going through the grain. This gives the best data possible to ensure we are hitting our targets for conditioning the grain. As the fan compresses the air, it will actually increase in temperature by a few degrees.
CO2 sensors have been popping up and discussed recently and look to be very promising as an aide to better monitor what is happening in the bin. The mistake being made here is that some are touting that they only need a CO2 sensor, and it is a replacement for moisture and temperature cables. If you need a refresher on this, re-read the paragraph above titled Moisture and Temperature Monitoring. Right now, there is not a lot of data on CO2 sensors and how to read them effectively, or the best placement of the sensor(s). Temperature and humidity sensors located in the headspace of a bin should be used only for controlling headspace fans, as they will not provide accurate readings about what is actually happening with the crop stored in the bin. We are excited for additional research to be published on CO2, and more companies to add it to their systems, but not confident in a system relying solely on this technology.
How do I decide?
There is a huge amount of data published showing the benefits of grain monitoring and automation. Many systems show a 40%-80% reduction in fan run times, saving electricity, as well as properly conditioning the grain without over-drying it, costing you money. Also, you are protecting your grain assets until they are delivered, ensuring you don't suffer from costly damage occurring to the grain. This brings the question from do I need a system, to which system is the best? Below is a list of questions to consider as you evaluate options.
Does the system monitor temperature and moisture with digital sensors in the grain?
Does the system have onsite weather, or rely on internet weather data?
Is fan control fully automated?
Are fan control decisions made in real-time using sensor data?
Is the system cloud-based so I can access it from anywhere?
What is the annual subscription fee, and does it require a long term contract?
How long has the company been in business? Will they still be in business down the road for support and warranty?
Is there local support available to help if you need it?
Once you have this list of questions answered, you will be able to make an educated decision about the best system for your operation.
With commodity prices at substantially higher levels than in previous years, there has never been a better time to invest in a system to help you monitor the condition of your grain stored in the bins. Often times, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of grain, and as bins continue to get larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to properly keep track of what is happening inside of them. More than a decade ago, HTS Ag partnered with OPI Systems, and have provided technology to assist with this.
Recently, there have been several other systems introduced to the market, with all types of claims, so we wanted to break down the systems and discuss the differences, so you can make an educated decision about the best way to keep track of your grain assets. The primary reason that HTS Ag chose OPI Systems as a partner, and continue the partnership, is we firmly believe they provide the best technology on the market.