Our part of the Prairies had super-dry harvest conditions this year, with a lot of grain coming off well under the “dry” point. This grain will store safely for a very long time, but when it comes to farmer returns, anything below the graded dry point means you have fewer tonnes of grain to sell.
Using canola as a reference, a 3,600-bushel bin will lose about $1,071 in value (based on a $7-per-bushel price) if sold at six per cent moisture versus the maximum allowable 10 per cent. I first discovered the significance of these differences a few years ago when filling a grain trailer with canola to honour a contract at the local grain terminals. I noticed the first load weighed lighter than usual, even though I filled it up to the normal levels on the truck. Water is heavier than oil, so low-moisture canola will weigh less for the same volume as higher-moisture canola.
So I thought I’d try something new. After some calculations using a 20-litre pail and standing in the trailer under the auger spout — which was the hard part — I figured out how many bushels per minute were coming out of my seven-inch auger running at half throttle. You could do the test with a weigh wagon, if you have one. I used bushels as a measurement because tonnes were too large of a volume to measure easily. Then I figured out how many gallons of water per minute came out of my 300-foot garden hose.
To add one percentage point of moisture to 500 bushels of canola, takes five bushels of water — or around 40 gallons. Then you have to figure out how many percentage points of moisture you want to add, and trickle that water on evenly as you fill the truck.
Attaching the hose to the auger was quite simple using good old duct tape. Make sure the outlet points toward the flighting and make sure the auger is pulling grain before you turn the water on so all the water gets sucked in.
The easiest way to regulate the whole process is to simply rev up the auger and increase the grain flow, leaving the water to free flow out of the open end.
A word of caution: If you’re taking grain out of a flat bottom, you want to either empty the bin completely or make sure you don’t leave a wet spot of grain by the door to spoil. Doing this out of a hopper bin is a cinch.
To test my rough calculations, the first time I did this I stopped when the truck was about half full. I let it sit for about the time it would have taken me to get to the terminal, then I probed a sample and tested it. At home, I managed to get the moisture of the canola to read about 10.9 per cent. The terminal sample dropped further to 10 per cent for that load. It was working, so I kept going.
Some loads were more than 10 per cent, some were less, but the ones that were 11 per cent were fine with the grain buyers because what they were seeing all fall was about five to seven per cent canola. Bottom line is I made about $1,000 more per 3,600-bushel bin — which is a common bin size across the Prairies.
The elevator guy asked me if it was last year’s stuff because it was dustless and moister. One other benefit was that the dockage was less because some seeds plumped up and weren’t going through the fine testing screens. I estimated I got about three per cent less dockage as a result.
Adding moisture to the wheat increases the colour and the vitreousness to the point where I actually gained a grade over my super-dry wrinkled looking stuff. It looks really wet going into the truck but after a half-hour ride to the terminal, it was dry looking.
After the first load to the elevator your confidence will rise and the extra money you made will be worth the effort of pushing a couple augers around to test this out for yourself. If you are the cautious kind of person, just add a small amount of water the first time.
We have done this on our farm on two separate dry spells over the years. The last time involved about 60,000 bushels of canola and Hard Red Spring wheat. All of the wheat went in producer cars. You want to have your technique refined before loading into producer cars. In the event the moisture is a bit over the safe limit and the grain car sits for a long period the chances of spoilage are increased.
To help you out the Canadian Grain Commission has a handy moisture loss to weight conversion chart under “grain drying” on its website at www.grainscanada.gc.ca.