Our Research Never Ends
Like any university, IntelliFarms University is in perpetual research-mode, seeking out new methods and strategies to improve grain management, from seed to sale. IntelliFarms has a fully-equipped lab at its headquarters to conduct regular analysis of grain hybrids and varieties and build customized EMC curves to these varieties.
Below are some of the ongoing research efforts taking place at IntelliFarms University. Examine the sections below to learn about research at IntelliFarms.
Within ears of corn, it’s very common for the kernels to vary in moisture content due to the amount of exposure the kernels have had to sunlight. Typically the top kernels have lower moisture, while kernels at the bottom of the ear have high moisture. The research team at IntelliFarms University found that there is approximately a 5-8% moisture variation between top and bottom kernels in ears of corn.
When these kernels all go into the grain storage bin together, this can create a storage problem. When the corn kernels with higher moisture content are dried in a drier or using natural air to marketable safe storage moisture of 15%, there is a greater chance that these kernels will end up having moisture content at or above 18%. This creates the potential for hot spots. By understanding this variation between kernels, the IntelliFarms University research team in tandem with Grain Specialists and BinManager engineers develop technology and protocols for controlled drying that helps identify higher moisture kernels and dry them to the safe storage moisture.
The safe storage time of different grains is determined by studying the carbon dioxide release from the grains. During respiration, carbohydrates (dry matter) decomposes into carbon dioxide, water and heat. At higher temperature and moisture content, there will be greater respiration rate.. Therefore, when the grain temperature or grain moisture increases, storage time decreases.
When the dry matter loss of corn reaches 0.5%, it is considered one grade reduction. Other grades experience one grade reduction at their specific dry matter loss rates. In the IntelliFarms University grain lab, we work to determine the safe storage time of various grains.
The safe storage moisture content is the grain moisture content in with a relative humidity (RH) of less than 65%. At this RH, in-grain mold does not grow, and it is considered safe for storage. Grain temperature also plays a major role in safe storage moisture content. When the grain temperature increases, grain vapor pressure increases, resulting in high RH. Because of this, as the grain temperature increases, the safe storage moisture content reduces. Therefore, the safe storage moisture content is determined based on the average ambient temperature in that region and 65% RH.
However, many hybrids of same grain type have different moisture-temperature relationships; thereby have different safe storage moisture content. In the IntelliFarms University grain lab, we to understand the safe storage moisture content of grain varieties and their hybrids.
Equilibrium moisture content (EMC) relationship for different hybrids or pure-line varieties of same grain varies significantly. For example, soybean hybrids can vary from 7.7% to 12.0% EMC at 65% relative humidity (RH) and 68oF grain temperature. The soybean that has an EMC less than 12%, but is stored at 13% marketable safe storage, may go out of condition or deteriorate its quality (money loss). Much of the EMC data determined for different grains is 20-30 years old.
But with the proliferation of genetically modified or cross-bred seeds/grains in the last 10 years, many new grains have different EMC relationship compared to pure-line varieties. IntelliFarms University grain lab works to understand the EMC relationships for these new seeds, in order to determine the safe storage moisture as well as drying and rewetting behavior.
Managing popcorn in grain storage bin is very critical. Most of the popcorn varieties have good popping quality at moisture content (MC) between 13% and 14%. However, majority of the popcorn hybrids and pureline varieties have safe storage moisture contents which are well below 13%. What is the implication? At 13-14% popping moisture content, relative humidity (RH) developed by the popcorn is higher than 65%. Therefore, there could be a lot of chances that mold starts to grow on those popcorns at this moisture content. In the figure, Green- represents good popping quality moisture content of popcorn. However, at higher temperature and for optimum popping MC of 13-14%, RH of the interspatial air is >65%, this condition is more favorable for mold growth. For example: at 80 degree F, RH is 70% at 14.0% MC.
Natural air drying (NAD) is the low-temperature ambient air drying of grain. Since it uses ambient air for drying, weather plays a major role. Advantages of NAD are good-quality grains with stress-free kernels, higher test weight and lower drying cost compared to cross-flow higher temperature drying. NAD of grains is not the same for all weather locations. Therefore, different drying strategies need to be developed based on weather pertaining to the location of the bin. The IntelliFarms University team helps to address the challenge of achieving uniform moisture in the grain without affecting the quality of the grain by consulting and selecting the appropriate EMC for drying the grain.
Natural air drying (NAD) may be controlled or uncontrolled. In an uncontrolled strategy, the fan operates continuously from the harvest date until the grain reaches the target moisture. There is a drying and rewetting period during uncontrolled drying. This leads to unnecessary fan run time, and consequential economic loss to farmers.
By comparison, in a controlled drying scenario, the fan operates only when the grain EMC corresponding to the plenum air is within drying limits. There is no rewetting period at all. The IntelliFarms University team works to educate farmers about the merits of controlled NAD in order to achieve the desired grain state, without experiencing economic costs and inefficiencies.
Non-uniform airflow in grain mass is a common phenomenon in grain bins. Factors that influence non-uniform airflow are grain mass configurations, amount of fines and foreign material, and method of filling. When filling the bin, larger particles tend to flow towards the walls and smaller particles accumulate near the core of the grain mass. This results in density variations in the grain mass with higher density in the core and lower density towards the walls.
In peaked grain mass configurations where grain is peaked at the center, air velocity in the center is 30-50% less than the sides. Air velocity in the peaked region is almost zero. Due to less or limited airflow in peaked grain mass, drying or cooling will take longer. By the time this peak region dries there will be mold activity, heat, and condensation, which can lead to surface crust. Meanwhile, the grain near the walls is over-dried. The IntelliFarms University team works to educate farmers on the risks of non-uniform airflow and strategies that can be employed to address it.