Tips for getting the most out of your silos

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According to all accounts, the 2020-21 winter crop yield – due for harvesting in the coming weeks – will go close to breaking the national record. Geronimo Farm Equipment's Ashley Webster highlights the best safety and maintenance tips ahead of the harvest.

Tips for getting the most out of your silos
According to all accounts, the 2020-21 winter crop yield – due for harvesting in the coming weeks – will go close to breaking the national record.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) indicate a yield of around 55 megatonnes will be harvested from a suggested total of 22.93 million hectares planted; enough to reach near-record numbers for the second consecutive year.

Of course, in many of the country’s southern growing fields of New South Wales and Victoria, the winter harvest is dominated by grains such as wheat, barley and oats.

But harvesting crops is only half the job, as we know. Following the harvest, farmers must have the correct grain handling procedures in place to maximise their tonnage and in turn, maximise profits.  

Geronimo farm equipment sales manager Ashley Webster says there are certain aspects farmers need to consider when purchasing and implementing their grain equipment on farms.

"Basically, it is about dollars per tonne of storage. Farmers have to budget on what they can afford and what is the most economical options," says Webster.

"Australian farmers operate on price so they generally want the cheapest option, and they don't really consider what the other options may be. The more you can educate customers, the better.

"Generally, they think they just want a bin, an auger to fill it and if they need aeration or they've got existing bins and aeration works for them."

Webster says one of the major debates when it comes to grain handling for farmers is whether to buy a silo that is sealed or not sealed, and to understand the benefits of both.

Silos can be sealed to carry out the fumigation of insects inside, however, sealing silos for long periods of time does comes with its own associated risks, namely grain degradation and structural damage over time. 

Chris Warrick from GRDC Grain Storage argues that, apart from fumigation, "there is no other purpose or time a silo should be sealed". 

"Apart from sealing silos for the fumigation periods as directed by the label, silos should be left unsealed to allow air movement," he says. 

Sealed silos also must meet the Australian Standard 2628 (2010), which requires all silos to be a gastight, sealable silo suitable for fumigation.  To meet the standard, silos must undertake a half-life pressure test whereby phosphine gas and other fumigants will be held in the silo for five minutes at a concentration high enough to kill insects at all life stages. 

Webster says that, when buying a silo, farmers should know the differences and what is required by their grain operations.

"Basically, you need to know – which has become the big question at the moment – is whether you want the silo sealed or not, or you know what sealing does or why they're sealing it because that is obviously an extra cost," says Webster.

He also says there are other factors farmers should consider when purchasing equipment including aspects such as aeration. 

"They need to look at aeration and whether they are going to look at that as an option to control the temperature and potentially take the moisture out of the grain, if that's important to them," he explains.

"They also need to look at the different forms of aeration and the size of fans. We have large fans which provides large volume of air to better control the temperature and airflow in those silos."

Sign of the times

Perhaps rather usurpingly, great advancements have been made in the realm of grain handling equipment since the turn of the century – certainly since Webster started working at Geronimo. 

"It has come a long way from what we were doing 25 years ago," he says.

Many of the technological leaps have been made in a bid to make the process of shifting grain from the silo elsewhere, via augers and conveyers, a quicker, more efficient process. 

Sealing techniques of silos have also changed, as have auger capacities and the various sizes and capabilities of silos to support different loads and needs.

But the tech also extends to automation. Phone apps now exist where farmers can access and monitor data of silos as well as controlling equipment functions. 

Such automation of systems exist and are sold by Australian distributors such as Geronimo. However, not many are currently in use by farmers across the country – something Webster says will happen eventually Down Under.

"For another five dollars per tonne, you may have a fully automotive system. You might have temperature cables in it to help control. All of those new technology and things are there," he says.

"You can turn your fans on in the silo from your phone and all of this sort of thing. There is fantastic technology out there but some of it costs $30–40k per installation and a lot of people shy away from it.

Keep ‘em clean

While silos may look like a shed, and function in many ways just like a normal shed would, it’s imperative to remember that the similarities  between the two end somewhere, and that line  is with maintenance and cleaning. 

Webster says all silos should be cleaned at least once a year, including all of the components that make up the structure. 

"You see the good farmers, it is part of their routine. Come round to a month before harvest and they clean out all of their bins and if there are grains left to carry over, they make sure it is all okay," he says.

But it’s not just cleaning out old grain from the bin floor, but also checking in on the gearbox and the sweeper arrangement to make sure everything is running efficiently.

Other things to remember include the unload sweep and the remote lid, which need retesting every few years to ensure all moving parts operate correctly. Leaks and wear and tear damage, which could ultimately hinder the functionality of sealed silos, must also be monitored and fixed. 

"You have to check for any changes to seals and any leaks which don't come for the build of the silo but from general wear and tear. You could have had a windstorm, or an auger may have rested on a room and bent a panel so it’s important," says Webster. 

"It’s not considered a mechanical, serviceable thing. Some people think of it like a shed, but it is a little different.

"We get blokes who ring up and say the silo is not good and it's leaking and you get pictures of it, and they've tied the infill auger to the roof and there's a big cavity in the side of the silo.

"Your cleanliness and hygiene are important."

Handy tips

When considering grain handling equipment on farms, Webster says it’s also important to remember the locality of silos. 

"Well it's important that silos are near or close to power access. You need a well-drained site for trucks and movement," he says. 

"A lot of people put their silos in silly places and they're hard enough to build but then you think: 'Well how road trains are going to get to and from there?'"

Geronimo Farm Equipment operates across four different branches throughout New South Wales – Cowra, Dubbo, Walgett and Moree – selling a range of farming equipment, including an extensive variety of grain handling equipment. 

Currently, Geronimo is the exclusive distributor of Twister silos in Australia and sells Chief-branded bins. In the sphere of augers, it is Brandt's largest independent dealer in the world.   

"It'll tell you what is in the silo with infrared rays and programs which workout the density of the grain and let the farmer know how many tonnes are left in the silo.

"That's particularly handy to know at times. If you can check that on your phone during harvests – it's a pretty handy piece of technology.

"The automotive technology gets done a lot overseas but not a lot of farmers are implementing that in Australia just yet."

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