The NECO Dryer Master DM510

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neco2-smalWe are thrilled to have NECO grain dryers now offering a NECO branded Dryer Master DM510 to its existing grain dryer customers.  This is an excellent example of the continued growing acceptance of Dryer Master’s industry leading computerized grain drying control systems.

NECO, based in Omaha, NE, and a division of Global Industries, has been offering an integrated version of the DM510 on its new dryers for the past several years, and now will also be offering, through its dealers, a drying control upgrade package to customers with its older grain dryers.

Today, more and more dryer owners are looking to be able to monitor their drying without having to be physically at the dryer. But, to get this functionality on an older dryer usually requires an expensive upgrade of the dryer controls.

dm-mobile2015-screenNow, the NECO upgrade package offers customers a cost effective path to being able to view real time continuous moisture and drying information and to make control adjustments to their drying using their smart phone (internet connection required at the DM510 panel), tablet or PC, through a standard web browser interface.

If you have an older NECO dryer and would like to add drying control and remote access, contact your local NECO dryer dealer for more information. For owners of older grain dryers by other manufacturers you can contact us directly at 1-800-265-2757 to find out more about how you too can upgrade your dryer.

“No teacup samples!”

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“No teacup samples!”

That was the word from the manager to his dryer operators once the drying season began. Knowing the importance of taking good moisture samples he didn’t want any of his operators taking potentially costly short cuts. That is pretty good advice.

With everyone busy and the temptation to take that grab moisture sample often there, it is a good time to review why we need to be careful when we take moisture samples and how we should try to get “valid” samples while drying.

Why: There is no such thing as a single moisture value for grain, especially corn, leaving the dryer. There will always be some variation from kernel to kernel and sample to sample.

Taking only a small sample means that you could get a very unrepresentative reading. If you then use this misleading value to make an adjustment to your drying you could end up over or under drying unnecessarily.

To improve the accuracy of your sample you want to take a larger sample over a slightly longer time period. This will minimize the chances for getting an outlier reading.

How: With the DM510 system we recommend taking several small scoops or handfuls over a 30 second time period. Then we advise that you mix the combined sample thoroughly.

While it is possible to just do one manual test on a portion of the sample, we usually recommend that you take three tests, on three different pulls from the sample, and then average the result.

Since the three readings will often be different this will also give you an idea of the variation present – and remember this variation is what you see after the several small samples have already been mixed.

Here is a short excerpt from our DM510 training video that goes over some sampling basics:

What’s your “Dead Time”?

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Imagine you are at your dryer and you have just taken a moisture sample.

The corn tests at 14.2% in your bench top, but you want 15.2% coming out of the dryer. What do you do?

Let’s say you decide to increase the metering roll speed (discharge rate). You make the change, but right away two thoughts strike you. First did you make a big enough change, or maybe too big of a change, and second, just how long will it be until you know the answer to your first question.

Just like there is a lag between when you turn on the shower and when you actually get hot water there is a lag between when you make a change to the metering roll speed and when you see the impact of that change. This is what is called “dead time”.

If your dryer has a cooling zone, then the absolute minimum dead time before you see any change in your outlet moisture is the time it takes for the grain to get from the bottom of the hot zone to where you take your moisture sample. This is because the grain that was already in the cooling zone will not see any change in moisture because of your rate change. In reality though you should be looking at up to a full dryer load before you see the full impact of your change. Only then can you know if you made the right change.

So, if your dryer has only a 60 minute residence time and a cooling zone, you are probably still looking at about 50 minutes to see if the rate change was correct. If you have a rack style dryer with say a 3 hour residence time then you could be looking at well over 2 hours to see the impact of your change.


Let’s use as an example the sample dryer at the right with a 3 hour residence time – 2 1/2 hours in the hot zone and 1/2 an hour in the cooling zone. If you make a discharge rate change the grain in the cooling zone will not be impacted by the change. The final moisture of this grain has already been set at this point. The grain in the bottom half of the hot zone is also unlikely to see the full impact of the change. Again in our example, by the end of the hot zone if the grain is over dried it can not be undried at this point. Therefore it is likely that to see an impact from the rate change the grain will have to at least be in the top half of the hot zone. That means you would have to wait at least 2 hours for it to exit the dryer before you might start to know if your rate change decision was correct. That’s why it is called “dead time” – time you have to wait not knowing if the right decision was made, and it is one of the reasons grain drying is so tough.

It is no wonder that so many dryer operators prefer not to make too many rate changes, and prefer to err on the side of caution (over drying a bit). If they make the wrong decision it can take up to a dryer load to get things back in order.

In our next post we will look at how Dryer Master handles the “dead time” problem to help users take the guesswork out of drying their grain.

Tending Corn at 6,500 Feet

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When we travel we like to get a feel for how local farmers live and farm. On a recent visit to Guatemala we had the chance to spend some time with Domingo a Mayan farmer who farms on a small area in the hills around Lake Atitlan, at an altitude of about 6,500 feet. P1170703a

The first thing we realize is that in Guatemala white corn is king. It is not only a major crop but it’s also the main food source for much of the population. Tortillas made from a dough of ground white corn and water are the staple food for many, and it is never hard to find a place that sells them.

While US farmers grow yellow corn primarily for feed or ethanol, in Guatemala farmers are often growing white corn for direct consumption by their families. Also in contrast with the US, where farmers are used to talking about farm sizes in the hundreds or thousands of acres, in Guatemala, as in much of the developed world, acreages are much smaller.

Domingo lives in a picturesque town on the shores of Lake Atitlan at about 5,000 feet above sea level but he farms at an even higher altitude, at about 6,500 feet. Although the volcanic soil in the area is an advantage, his limited acreage and his inability to afford much in the way of better quality seeds and fertilizer limits his yield.

On his 2.5 acres of land Domingo grows corn, coffee, beans, and a few lesser crops. About 1.25 acres is devoted to corn, with some of the land having been continually cultivated without crop rotation for 70 years. There is only one crop of corn each year and Domingo primarily uses seed from the previous year to plant his crop.

Every day Domingo gets up well before dawn to make his way to his fields, bringing his breakfast/lunch of 16 tortillas made by his wife from corn he has grown, which he eats at 10 am. This is all he will eat until he has dinner at 6 pm (having returned home at about 2 pm). Dinner again is likely to be simple with beans and tortillas and maybe some eggs. Meat is definitely not a daily menu item.

It is a measure of how important tortillas are that one of the key indicators of inflation is how many corn tortillas you can get for 1 Quetzal (the Quetzal is the Guatemalan currency – 1 Quetzal is worth about 12 cents US). In the past you could get 8 then 6 and now only 4 tortillas for 1 Quetzal, and now even the size of the tortillas seems to be shrinking as well.

Corn is planted in Jan/Feb during the dry season and is getting close to knee high by April when the wet season begins. Harvest usually takes place in October/November once the wet season is over and the dry season has started again. The corn is sun dried still on the cob, and once dry Domingo uses a small hand driven machine to decob the corn. Corn is stored in 2 small silos, one that holds about 1800 pounds and another that holds about 800 pounds.

The corn needs fertilizer and it is added at a couple of points in the growing season. He also uses any organic material available as additional fertilizer, including anything available from home. Chemicals are occasionally used against weeds, but as they are expensive, application is infrequent. Instead the hoe gets used a lot.

From his 1.25 acres of land Domingo is usually able to get a yield of approximately 50-60 bushels per acre. This corn is the staple food used to feed his extended family of 7. Even though the younger generation doesn’t eat as may tortillas as before, the family still manages to go through 3-4 pounds of corn per day.

The tortillas are cooked on a wood fired stove, even though the family has a gas stove as well. This is because with a wood fire three “burners” are available all day and can be used to continuously cook tortillas whereas with the gas stove the gas is used less efficiently and ends up costing a lot more. But, this also means that Domingo, his family, and the rest of the town burn a lot of wood every day. In fact it is quite common to see large piles of chopped wood on street corners around the village waiting to be distributed.

In addition to corn, Domingo also grows some coffee on about 7/10 of an acre. He is able to produce about 500 pounds of high altitude coffee beans each year with the beans being a valuable source of cash income when sold. Domingo also grows edible beans as another source of food for the family as they can be planted with the corn because the two are excellent companion crops.

While definitely not an easy or an overly profitable existence Domingo and his wife have managed to raise 4 children. Although they lived for a while in the city after they were married they eventually returned to the small town to take over the family acreage. Perhaps tellingly though none of their children today are too interested in continuing in the fields, at least for now.

Drying the traditional way

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Sun dried coffee beans
Sun dried coffee beans
In the last post we described a visit to an organic coffee cooperative in Guatemala. In addition to the economic lessons we drew from the cooperative experience, we also saw how drying often happens in a developing economy.

At La Voz there is no need for a Dryer Master computerized drying control system at this time because the cooperative does not even have a coffee bean dryer. This is a situation that is mirrored in many smaller scale operations in the developing world for a whole variety of crops. The cooperative’s coffee is all sun dried in an open area right next to where it is washed and cleaned.

The actual harvest extends over a long period running from November to March, which coincides with the dry season in the region. During this period rainfall is almost unheard of and the cooperative can take advantage of almost constant day time sunshine to dry the beans outdoors on a drying pad, a process that takes about 5 days. As the harvest occurs over an extended period it is possible to use a relatively small area to dry all the beans harvested.

Once the beans are dried they are hand sorted by women from the cooperative, to ensure that the ones headed for export are top quality. The beans are then bagged in burlap sacks and shipped to the capital where they are processed to remove the parchment skin and then repacked for export from the Pacific Coast to the end customers in Japan, California and Alaska.

High altitude organically grown coffee

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Over the years we have seen a continued rise in the average farm size in North America, yet in many parts of the developing world there are still many small farmers trying to eke out a living on quite minimal acreage. Recently we had the opportunity to visit a coffee cooperative in Guatemala to observe how they are handling the challenges of global markets in the face of small individual land holdings.

Coffee Plants
Coffee Plants at 5,000 feet

The La Voz Cooperative is located in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala. All together 150 families are part of this small 33 year old cooperative that produces organic coffee for export. On average each family has only 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of land from which to make a living. They farm Arabica coffee organically at an altitude of over 5,000 feet with 60 per cent shade using trees like banana and avocado to provide the shade cover. They also harvest the bananas for personal use and try to sell the avocados outside the area to earn some additional cash.

In a good year the cooperative, which maintains a basic processing facility, is able to process and sell 5 container loads of export quality coffee beans. They have just 3 customers, one in California, one in Alaska and one in Japan that buy 95% of the coffee they produce. The remaining 5% is kept to be sold locally, especially to visitors to the cooperative. The cooperative is an interesting example of how small growers with minimal land holdings in a developing economy are able to access an export market for their specialty crop.

Of course there is no doubt that the quality of the coffee also helps. Coffee grown at over 5,000 feet is referred to as “very high altitude” coffee and it is known that as altitude increases the coffee’s flavour profile becomes more pronounced and distinctive. Add in the impact from the region’s volcanic soil and we can attest that the La Voz coffee definitely delivers a lovely coffee drinking experience.