farm

Getting Resourceful: Soybeans, Grain Dryers, and Energy Efficiency

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The extremely wet weather this fall, coupled with political and economic changes, created an especially difficult harvest season for most soybean producers. On top of low prices, farmers faced severe price docks for high moisture content in their beans. According to the Progressive Farmer, usually beans are docked six to eight cents per bushel for five percent moisture damage. This year, deductions were sharply higher, around $1.80 per bushel. That left farmers with no choice but to dry their beans in grain dryers designed for corn.

We called up Chad Martin, energy auditor, to talk about the effects these unusual circumstances had on on-farm energy usage. Chad is a from a fifth-generation family farm in Cass County and has 12 years of experience as an energy auditor at Purdue University.

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1.       Thanks for talking with us, Chad. Okay, first thing’s first. Exactly what is an energy audit?

Sure. An energy audit is a comparison of the documented performance of an existing dryer to a prediction of what the performance of a new one will be. It takes into account your energy prices and eliminate growing season variables from year to year. It also considers upkeep and maintenance on the equipment. An energy auditor gives you an unbiased third-party view of the cost and energy savings that could come with a new dryer.

2.       What other types of energy audits do you do?

I’ve done audits on lighting system upgrades when people switch to LED, several audits for swine buildings and dairy farms… The challenge there is that dairy prices are so low that it’s hard to make capital improvements. Greenhouse production is another one, but I’d say 85% of the audits I’ve done have been with grain dryers.

 3.       This year, a lot of farmers resorted to drying soybeans. Is this a common practice?

The last time was in 2009, when high moisture in corn was the biggest issue, and a small portion of soybeans were dried, too. We saw older dryers sit empty during the previous drought year in 2008, then used to their maximum in the 2009 rainy year. That brought a lot of hidden efficiency problems to the forefront for farmers. So that was the first wave of energy audits we did for the USDA REAP grants. We partnered up with Prosperity on several REAP grants a few years later.

4.       What impact does it have on dryer efficiency?

The dryers are being used for something they’re not designed to do, so they won’t be as efficient. Drying soybeans requires a lower temperature because you’re drying them down two to four percentage points of moisture, not 15 to 20 percent for corn. You’re also running a smaller amount of beans through the dryer at one time, so high capacity dryers have a higher of risk of splitting the beans from agitation. That means a lower-quality bean, which means another price dock. Some farmers have tried in-bin drying their beans as an alternative.

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 5.       What’s on the horizon for grain dryer efficiency?

The biggest development is real-time monitoring that gives you data you can access on your phone or iPad. Once we know the historical record over the past two or three years, that data tells us where things can be improved or areas for maintenance. Sensors in dryer are getting more sophisticated, and data analytics can be used on different types of hybrids. That means you can make improvements without getting a whole new dryer.

 As farms get larger, they’re adding not just one but two or three combines so they can get the crops out quicker. They need a dryer that keeps up but maintains its efficiency, especially with spikes in energy. Utility companies are starting to treat farms as small manufacturers. Since all the farms in the area are using their dryers too, they’re hit with demand charges. So we’re becoming more mindful of how we manage electricity. VFDs (Variable Frequency Drives) help motors mitigate those demand charges by running dryers at off-peak times to reduce costs.

 6.       Is renewable energy becoming more of an option with grain dryers?

Renewable energy with drying is a challenge. Dryers only operate two or three months out of year, and sometimes not at all, so it’s hard to justify the capital investment. Solar is much better suited for a dairy or hog operation because the energy usage variations are more steady and predictable.


 A big thanks to Chad for taking the time to talk with us. If you’d like more information about energy audits, you can reach Chad at 765-586-0860 or cmartin.energyservices@gmail.com. If you have questions about funding for your energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, you can reach us here.




Kids and Veggies: A Love Story

By Karen DuVall

Ask almost any parent and they’ll tell you that it’s a struggle to get their kids to eat vegetables, or even TRY them.

Seriously, just try it… Just a bite. Please… One piece…

It seems like this war has been raging since the dawn of time. Parents and teachers have tried virtually everything to reason, negotiate, and trick their kids into eating something healthy.

Government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and universities have attempted multiple strategies to increase healthy food consumption among children with uneven success. They’ve mounted educational campaigns to share information with parents and children about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. They’ve also taken the marketing approach by re-writing popular children’s songs with verses about veggies, and you might remember the controversy around Cookie Monster expanding his culinary palate to include fruit.

But a more down-home solution may exist: getting kids involved in gardening and farming. I was clued into this idea last year while I was catching up with one of my friends over the phone. She mentioned how weird it was that her five-year-old would only eat strawberries from the vines she helped plant. I laughed and thought it was cute, but it turns out that my friend’s daughter isn’t the only one. The research bears this out.

Kids who garden are more likely to eat their veggies.

Kids who garden are more likely to eat their veggies.

Researchers looked at several studies of garden-based nutrition education programs, and they found that, across the board, gardening increased children’s vegetable consumption

Our results suggest that gardening should be an integral component of wellness programs and policies.
— HortTechnology

Kids’ connection to local farms and farmers also shows promise. The USDA Farm-to-School program links local agricultural producers to K-12 schools to supply fresh local produce. The program also encourages school-based gardening in creative ways. Just for example, a school district in Michigan built two mobile greenhouse buses in its community garden.

The Farm-to-School program has shown signs of success. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior did a study on plate waste at six elementary schools to track how much food students were throwing out after their lunches. They found that the kids at schools ate more fruits and vegetables with Farm-to-School procurement from local agriculture, compared to similar schools that did not.

We are grateful for this newfound hope for parents and teachers. All is not lost is the Kids vs. Veggies debate, and Prosperity is here to help. If you are an ag producer, educator, or nonprofit leader who would like more information on funding opportunities for gardening and local foods nutrition programs, we’d love to talk with you! Contact us now and let us know your ideas.