Extra grain from two new contract farms and a well-worn system that couldn’t handle oilseed rape made last year’s harvest at North Farm, Horton particularly awkward, especially during its wet start.
“The old drying facilities were based on a sub-10t/hr Alvan Blanch drier which was very slow and needed someone present all the time,” says Peter Snell. “We were also stretched on capacity and had to use temporary storage.”
Mr Snell does his own marketing, starting about a year before one harvest and aiming to sell into July before the next.
“We don’t use pools and generally sell two to four loads at a time, about a third before harvest and the rest afterwards. We try not to move anything at harvest, as the price is generally weakest then and there’s plenty else to do like sowing oilseed rape.”
Last harvest, besides ten 40t bins there were three flat stores totalling 750t which used pedestals for ventilation. One, largely unsuitable for long-term storage, has since been rented out.
“With 650 acres at North Farm and 190 acres on two further farms, we hope to be storing about 2000t of winter wheat, 250t of rape and 250t of spring barley,” says Mr Snell.
Simplicity was the watchword for Peter Snell when revamping his drying and storage facilities
In setting out to upgrade, simplicity was the priority, he says.
“We wanted capacity for future expansion and to be able to dry and ventilate crops better, especially rape and malting barley.
“We’re also going to try contract drying woodchips for a local firm selling them as boiler fuel.
“I like the simplicity of drying floors with no elevators or conveyors to break, no ladders to climb and which avoid the health and safety implications of working at height and in confined silos.
“Flat floors, without pits or underground tunnels, are easy to clean, which reduces the likelihood of pest infestations. We can dry mainly with ambient air to cut fuel costs, and it’s easy to condition grain. Niche crops, such as opium poppies, also need ventilated floors.”
Joining a co-operative was ruled out on costs and the distance to the nearest store – nearly 50 miles.
“Relying on co-op storage means you depend on getting HGVs at harvest,” he adds. “That’s an increasingly strained link that’s out of our control.
“For me it’s important to have independence and control over what we do.”
Fortunately, a 12,000sq ft steel building with good roof, rebuilt after a fire eight years ago and previously used to store dairy herd straw was available.
“All we required were a concrete floor and panels, drying floor, tunnel and fan room, fans and burners, roller doors plus electrical work and some bits and pieces.
“It cost a lot (see box), but we got a lot of building. The concrete was laid by contractor, and the fan room, floor and tunnel supplied and fitted by Challow.”
The electric roller doors were installed by an engineering firm, and the farm staff did the cladding and other odd work.
“We got three quotes and choose on price, quality and recommendation.”
BK Grain Handling Engineers of Marlborough provided the design service, drawings, expertise, sourced components and individual contractors, and oversaw the project.
Drying in split store can be extended
The new store is split into two with one half further divided into two 450t hardwood drying floors separated by a central tunnel.
Above the tunnel is the fan room containing two axial fans delivering 45,000cu ft/min, with two constant humidity controllers above the air intakes. Grain in the fully automated system, fuelled by liquid propane, can be stored 3m high.
The other half of the building, using pedestals for ventilation, can hold more than 1000t.
“The idea is that in a year or two we can extend the tunnel into the second half giving two more drying floors of the same capacity.
“Provided the farm’s JCB telehandler doesn’t break down there’s little else to go wrong,” says Mr Snell.
He plans to tip the first and last trailers of the day, usually the wettest, to the side of the drying floor and slowly mix their contents with the rest of the day’s intakes as they are tipped and heaped by the JCB’s grain pusher.
The system should remove 0.5-1.0% moisture every 24 hours, drying one floor at a time, with attention required briefly only once or twice a day.
North Farm main grain store costs (£)
- Concrete floor – 10,000
- Concrete panels – 25,000
- Drying floor, tunnel and fan room – 40,000
- Fans & burners – 20,000
- Roller doors & louvres – 16,000
- Electrical work – 13,000
- Builders – 8,000