New approach to in


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Jul 20, 2023

New approach to in

Published: August 10, 2023 Crops, Features "(Required)" indicates required fields gform.initializeOnLoaded( function() {gformInitSpinner( 10,

Published: August 10, 2023

Crops, Features

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Ross Welford is a grain producer who farms 1,200 acres near Maymont, Sask. He always strives to harvest his cereal and canola crops at the best time to achieve optimal grain quality, but that’s not always possible due to weather.


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“There are times you pull into a field and start going with the combine and then you realize, oh man, this is tougher than I really want,” says Welford. “I was wanting a bit more flexibility in being able to handle times when I’d harvest a crop that was a little bit too wet.”

There was no guarantee he would find a company that could dry his tough grain. Even if he could, it was an expensive option, and investing in a purpose-built grain drying system for his farm was even more costly.

For Welford, the solution was an in-bin drying monitoring system developed by Top Grade Ag of Calgary, Alta. The technology features a web-based dashboard that relies on sensors to estimate airflow, temperature and humidity within an aeration bin.

“For a fairly low investment relative to a hot air dryer system, I figured I’d give it a try,” Welford says. “I think it fits quite nicely, especially for a smaller producer.”

Welford has been using the tool for three years and is happy with the results. He used the system for a problematic barley crop last year.

“It was a really dry year, and then there were some late showers that caused some second growth. Normally, if we wanted the barley to get down to that 14, 15 per cent moisture content before harvest, we probably would have had to wait two or three weeks, and goodness knows what the quality would have been like.

“It was at over 20 per cent, I think, when we harvested the crop. But we managed to get it off and dry it down and get malt (quality). So, it probably paid for itself on that one field.”


Welford says a key benefit of the system is peace of mind. He can harvest grain with a higher moisture content, knowing he can blend it later with drier grain in the bin to even out the grade.

“I wanted to be able to start combining a little bit earlier, trying to preserve some of the grain quality. I’ve been able to do that (in the) last couple of years.

“I was able to start a couple of days prior to when I normally would have just because I had the confidence that I knew I could get the moisture content down. Especially when it’s still warm out in the fall, it can get rid of that moisture pretty easily in the bin.”

The Top Grade Ag system uses sensors at the inlet and outlet of the grain bin to estimate airflow and water removal rates for the drying operation. The algorithm further estimates grain moisture content during drying, allowing producers to know when the grain has reached an average moisture content that is safe to store.

Welford says it’s useful to know exactly what’s going on in the bin.

“Before that, you’d just turn the aeration fans on and kind of hope for the best.”

Top Grade Ag was founded by Glenn Wilde, a Saskatchewan farmer who, along with his brother Mike, has experimented with in-bin drying on the family operation in Cudworth, Sask., for many years.


According to Wilde, the idea behind in-bin drying technology was to add instrumentation to an aeration bin to give producers real-time information on how grain is drying in storage and to save them money.

The monitors can be accessed through a cloud-based app, which features a dashboard with the following drying parameters and cost estimates:

Wilde acknowledges many farmers are leery to harvest tough grain for fear of spoilage in the bin. But he says his technology represents a low-cost solution for the many small- to medium-sized farms that don’t have dedicated grain drying equipment and are at the mercy of Mother Nature at harvest time.

“In a typical year, farmers are going to have some tough grain, and if you don’t have drying equipment on the farm, you usually will have a significant levy for that tough grain at the elevators,” says Wilde.

“This method allows farmers to proactively harvest. They can harvest early and basically change their harvest timing to physiological maturity instead of moisture content.


“If you’re proactively harvesting, you’re not waiting. Right now, if you are reactively harvesting, you’re basically waiting for Mother Nature to dry your grain. In really bad years, when you get the rains, your grain can sit out there until October.”

Wilde says farmers who wait until grain in the field reaches an ideal moisture point before harvesting could end up with grain that’s too dry in the bin, and lost quality — and revenue — is the result.

“Numbers from our surveys show that it was very common for farms to incur three per cent losses just from having overdried grain in their bins,” he says.

“The whole concept of having a monitoring system, both for temperature and for water removal, is to give farmers the confidence to harvest tough grain. In a year like last year, they wouldn’t have even had to dry it. They would have been able to blend it and still capture quality and significant yield.”

Wilde is expanding his company’s offerings in the form of a certification service for farmers that would enable them to optimize their aeration bins for in-bin grain drying, essentially ensuring all of the hardware (fans and supplemental heating systems, for example) is the right size and properly powered and configured.

“If we put our instrumentation in a 30,000-bushel bin and it has a five-horsepower fan, that’s not going to work. Ideally, we need to review that bin to determine what kind of fan is going to work best,” says Wilde.

“It’s basically adding that engineering piece to the puzzle. We want to add that as a service, so that farmers can have the equivalent of a purpose-built batch dryer.”


Olds College of Agriculture and Technology has been evaluating Top Grade Ag’s in-bin drying system for the past four years at its Smart Farm near Olds, Alta.

Four bins containing barley and canola and equipped with aeration systems and technology have been undergoing tests aimed at confirming and improving the accuracy of the in-bin drying algorithm.

Physical and environmental factors that could affect the system’s sensor accuracy are also being assessed. Research so far indicates the software is effective.

“The system has been very simple to use,” says Daniel Stefner, project lead and farm liaison for smart agriculture-applied research at Olds College.

“Personally, it’s probably one of my favourite online platforms. It’s very user intuitive and provides what I would say is actionable insight into grain bin monitoring and drying.”

Stefner agrees with Wellford’s assessment that for smaller farm operations, the tool is worth consideration.


“I think it’s a system that’s well suited to smaller batch grain drying. For large-scale operations that need to dry hundreds of thousands of bushels, I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but it might be a little more difficult,” he says.

“I think where it really shines is for … some of the smaller operations that can’t really warrant investing in a grain dryer. If you have an aeration bin and a fan, you have 80 per cent of the equipment you need already. So, it can be a worthwhile investment, depending on your needs.”

For more information on Top Grade Ag’s in-bin drying monitoring system, go to

Associate Editor

Mark Halsall is an associate editor at Grainews based in Winnipeg. Contact him at [email protected].

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