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Wiltshire grower finds the key to success with stored grain.

Imagine having a means of knowing the relative humidity and temperature of stored grain at any given moment and the ability to control fan operation remotely by pre-setting temperature and moisture parameters.

Wiltshire farmer David Lemon discovered he could do this prior to harvest 2018 when he became the first grower in the UK to install a Robydome AVC 300 smart grain monitoring and control system - operated and fine-tuned by using his mobile phone, Although feeling his way initially, he very soon found he could make serious energy savings, while at the same time boosting grain quality.

David runs the 1,600ha Grafton Farm Partnership at East Grafton, in the east of the county, growing 400ha each of winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley — the balance being down to rye, maize or alternative crops for rotational benefit. Milling wheat goes to Ranks at Andover, while the premium spring barley is destined to satisfy the lager drinkers of Europe. “Last year, we decided to take advantage of a grant scheme that was available at the time, which aimed to improve the quality of grain in store,” he explains, “so we opted to go down the Robydome route. In a nutshell, the system basically turns the fans on and off automatically, according to demand, to the parameters that we set.”

"The combines start to run here when moisture gets down to 18 percent in the wheat, with the barley at 16.5-17.0 per cent — which we then take down to 13.5 in the store. The real challenge we face is when the air in the grain store is moist, which in turn means we're blowing damp air in and risking payment penalties.

Now, with this system, the fans come on automatically when the relative humidity in the stores hits 75 per cent." Cost saving in its first year of operation in the Grafton grain stores — one at the main site, with 7 smaller satellite locations the Robydome set-up helped to save almost £2,500 on the electricity bill for drying over the months of September, October and November 2018. In addition, the incidence of penalties imposed by customers was significantly reduced.

"lt’s a very easy system to set up," David reports, "and provides a very clear, real—time picture of what's happening in the various stores. It has performed exceptionally well in its first year and has meant that our grain store personnel are not having to come out at all hours to check what's going in the stores and constantly having to change settings. With the Robydome, all this is now achieved using a mobile phone.

"Some of our stores are quite remote, but they still needed to be physically monitored by staff, sometimes every hour or two. Now, with this system, it's so easy. Already. I've got a lot of faith in it, so why go for anything more complicated?” A single control facility has the capacity to manage up to 8 store sites, with up to 32 remote sensors at each location. Measuring ambient humidity and air temperature, it automatically regulates if or when the fan input is required. This means that the crop is constantly conditioned to an optimum storage level.

David Lemon makes the point that it's easy to think that the grain needs more conditioning than it really does, adding that the system is equally effective in both ground bins and towers. "Another consideration,” he adds, “is that by speeding the throughput of grain through the stores, it prevents any backlogs building up. This, in turn, means that the combines can keep working."

Installed

The Robydome system was supplied and installed by BK Grain Handling Engineers at Froxfield, near Marlborough; a company David has dealt with for more than 20 years. He's in good company, too BK holds a Royal Warrant, in recognition of its work involving the installation of grain storage facilities on the Windsor estate.

David contacted BK Grain, which has many years’ experience in the provision of grain drying and storage solutions, together with turnkey projects throughout the UK. The company recommended Robydome. Which was duly installed across the Grafton storage sites, and assisted in the development of the new set-up.

The company's Simon Bird explains how the self contained Robydome WTM-1 smart box works: “Located in the grain store, it's linked to wireless temperature probes and the store's ventilation system. All the information vital to the management of store conditions is available immediately and in real-time, with a straightforward web browser page to check and implement changes.”

An additional benefit the Robydome brings is that a single control point is able to manage up to 8 grain stores, each with up to 32 temperature sensors, while the way it's designed means that the challenges which might be imposed by dust and humidity when employing a static computer point in the store are eliminated.

In multi-site situations, the system can be fully integrated to operate from the farm office, or any other location. Significantly, all the historical records from each individual grain store location are held on the farm's own box as opposed to a remote server.

The timeline of grain in store has always been difficult to manage, so one of the principal targets in the development of this system was that it should have the ability to monitor progress as grain temperatures cool at individual points across the storage facilities. This means that any hotspots are quickly identified and action taken automatically. Another valuable feature is the automatic sending of an email alert if any danger levels are reached.