9 November 2001

Be careful & new plant neednt cost the earth

NEW grain storage and drying facilities need not cost a fortune, provided equipment is chosen carefully and capacity is matched to need.

That is Alastair Fitzgeralds response to claims that new on-farm facilities are hard to justify and co-operative storage is a more sensible option.

His judicious selections, including grain stirrers to maximise storage depth and the use of some second-hand building materials, kept capital cost at Red House Farm, Swallowfield, Wilts, down to £65.50/t.

"We looked at co-operative storage and our nearest, Wiltshire Grain, wanted £100-105/t up front to buy in. Another co-op in effect would have borrowed the money on our behalf and charged the interest, which would have come to roughly the same answer.

"On top of that, we could expect to pay another £8/t/year for ongoing costs of co-operative storage."

Even if the co-operative route had been chosen, enough on-farm storage for three or four days of combining would still have been needed to provide a buffer before delivery at peak periods.

"That would have meant a new shed, concrete floor and grain walling. The potential cost for 500t made us sweat a bit."

Figures for 1000t, 1500t and 2000t were then considered. "We did some careful calculations and it was obvious the capital costs went down dramatically as the volume increased, up to a critical point."

The figures were based on a single span building 36.5m (120ft) long with a central drying tunnel, two 23,00cu ft/minute fans and 10.6m (35ft) wide bays either side on a ventilated floor.

The key to reducing the overall cost/t was to maximise storage height. Vertical stirrers from Kent-based Harvest Installations ease airflow to permit a maximum depth of 4.3m (14ft) even with quite damp grain.

"We have had very little trouble even with intake moisture as high as 28%. If the grain can be combined it can be stored safely."

The 290ha (720 acres) of arable crops are split between winter wheat, spring barley and breaks of peas and oilseed rape. Wood panels keep crops apart.

Store filling is via elevator and lorry loading by industrial shovel with 2t bucket. Committing to a co-op would probably have involved bringing in a harvest student simply to load lorries.

"I admit we cheated a bit over the main store construction. Some of it came from a supermarket in Brighton and the uprights were from the second River Severn crossing. All in all it saved about £10,000. But it just shows what can be done."

To meet anticipated ACCS demands, Mr Fitzgerald fitted Galebreakers across the otherwise open ends of the store and down the sides.

Having sufficient space to avoid condensation above deep grain is important, he adds. "You must be certain the air flow across the top is good enough because you are driving off an awful lot of water." &#42

REDHOUSESTORE

&#8226 Efficient 2000t unit for £65/t.

&#8226 Cheaper than co-operative option.

&#8226 Grain stirrers key element.

&#8226 No extra labour required.

&#8226 On-floor store expense estimates:

Store size (t) £/t

500 150

1000 120

1500 Less than 100

2000 65