At time of writing, many Prairie farmers are out on the combines, and with high yields predicted for this year, it’s important grain storage systems are in good working order and ready for the grain to flow.
Why it matters: An annual maintenance strategy for a grain storage system is no different than tuning up the combine and other equipment, and will keep harvest moving smoothly.
Having a pre-harvest maintenance plan for your grain storage system, and doing the work well before the combines roll is just a good risk management strategy, says Derek Johnson, regional sales manager for AGI. “It’s mitigating the risk of in-season failure and having issues, whether it’s a storage, monitoring, aeration or auger issue. These issues can take up a considerable amount of time, and doing some preventative maintenance can help make sure harvest runs as smoothly as possible.”
When he talks with farmers about preparing for the busy harvest season, Johnson breaks it down into five main categories; bin cleanup and repair, parts and accessory maintenance, checking bin monitoring equipment, testing aeration equipment and checking bin filling equipment.
Remember, before attempting any maintenance on electrical equipment, shut off all power and use safe practices, including lock-out/tag-out procedures.
Clean up around bins
“Clean up around the bin site and inside the bins,” says Johnson. “Remove any mouldy, rotten grain inside and clean up around the doorways. Clean the components inside the bin, like bin unloads. If it’s a permanent handling system, make sure that it’s cleaned and running well. Clean up around the aeration in hopper bins and make sure that it’s free of debris. Once you put grain into it, you can’t do a lot of work on any of those systems, so just make sure to repair holes, cracks or damage — and do it well in advance.”
Farmers should also remove any debris from inside and outside the grain dryer, auger, drag and bin.
Check parts and accessories
“For flat bottom bins, check to make sure that the bin unload and bin sweep are working because once you put grain into those bins, if they are not working properly, you will have trouble trying to get that bin unloaded. Focus on maintenance of bearings and gear boxes and make sure they are functioning properly.”
On the inside of a flat bottom bin, the flashing around the perimeter should be well tacked down so grain doesn’t leak down below the floor. On hopper bins, farmers should check slide gates. “Make sure the bottom slide gate is opening properly, and if it’s a rack and pinion system that it’s oiled up and moving freely,” says Johnson.
Check that roof caps on the tops of bins open and close properly and that remote openers for these systems also work. “Check bin vents to ensure they are not obstructed, or they don’t have a bird’s nest in them, or chaff or any material from the previous year,” says Johnson.
Farmers should check all belts, chains and drives for proper tension and replace any that look questionable. They should lubricate chains, drives, and bearings on dryers, conveyors and all equipment.
If any wearable components such as augers, bearings, belts or sensors show damage or are nearing failure, replacing them will prevent unnecessary downtime during harvest. Safety cages should be secure, and safety shields on motor drives and dump points in good condition.
Check monitoring equipment
For bigger bins that have monitoring equipment, Johnson suggests checking sensors and things like hand-held readers for battery replacement, as well as the cables in bins to make sure they are still taking a reading, and aren’t damaged or need replacing.
“Tie cables down properly before filling the bin,” says Johnson. “If the cables aren’t tied down, once the bin starts to fill up, the cable will push to the outside and you won’t get an accurate reading. We recommend using twine or string to tie it down to the aeration floor. Don’t use chain or wire because that could damage the roof.”
Aeration system maintenance
Before putting any grain in the bin, it’s important farmers make sure the aeration fan is working. “The aeration fan can be monitored after filling because it’s on the outside of the bin, but we know what it’s like when harvest hits and guys are busy; they just can’t take the time to do that,” says Johnson, who also advises farmers check the control box for rodents, insects or other critters that can do damage to wiring.
If a farmer is using a low-temperature heater, the fan and heater combination must work properly for the size of bin, and he or she should replace any burned-out fuses.
Farmers should inspect any equipment they use to fill the bin, such as conveyors, grain augers, swing augers or double-run loop systems to ensure they are in good working order. “We would consider that to be regular maintenance because augers are used throughout the year, but greasing of gear boxes and U-joints, etc., all those sorts of things need to be looked at because again, it’s a time factor. Once you start filling the bin, you don’t have time to stop and fix a broken auger.”
Having an annual maintenance strategy for the grain storage system is no different than tuning up the combine and other harvest equipment, says Johnson. “Farmers always have that on their agenda, and grain storage is no different,” he says. “The next step, once the grain is harvested, is storing it and keeping it in good condition, and the best way to do that is to have the right equipment in place and maintain it properly.”