This article first featured in South East Farmer May 2011. Written by John Harvey.|
Staff from Scorpion Engineering braved horrendous conditions to start work on a new grain store at Court Lodge Farm in Kent for F.D. Attwood and Partners.
“The groundworks were done, the steel framework went up and they put the roof on to contain the building,” said Derek Broster, farm manager at Court Lodge Farm, which has about 900 acres around two new grain stores, one of which was built before this winter. The other was built during the harsh weather, and both will be ready for the barley and winter wheat grown this season.
“It took most of the winter to have those stages of the build sorted out, and the weather did not help at all,” Mr Broster remembered. “In some places we had 18 inches of snow. Scorpion couldn’t come in then, and the weather had a big influence on the time it took.” Scorpion are planning to complete the project within budget and on time for the end of May. “They have done very well,” he said.
The concrete was laid in the six weeks up to just past the middle of April, with the yard between the two new buildings poured ten days before South East Farmer’s visit. “Everything will be ready for this year’s harvest.”
The first of the new stores replaced the old grain buildings about 12 months ago after arsonists destroyed a straw barn on the farm. The grain in the old buildings was stored on wooden, ducted floors with a fan used for drying on one end of the building and heat was added through a gas burner to do a minimal amount of drying. In the next door building was an on-floor concrete store. “Once it was dry, the wheat went straight in,” said Mr Broster. “We used pedestals as well with extractor fans on top which helped with cooling the wheat. But it was an old system, and it was time for a change.”
The system was not expensive, though, because on the south facing Downs, the wheat does tend to be cut dry. “In a very wet year, we used to take the crop back to one of the other farms where we had a dryer which was an extra cost with haulage in particular.” Before the on-floor drying system, the buildings – which are about 30 years old – had square bins with a small conveyor system. But the capacity was insufficient, so the bins were removed and the wooden flooring was put in. “It was OK, but times are moving on and tonnages are getting bigger now. The convenience of these new buildings allows you to speed the process up by moving ahead on the drying, putting the grain in the store and having the grain controlled well.”
With the advent of farm assurance schemes and their stipulations about vermin and other issues, the old stores had become redundant for other reasons, too. “It was a full time job trying to keep the vermin under control,” said Mr Broster. “With old buildings you have to find all the holes and seal them off, especially in the winter when rats and mice tend to move in.”
Once the first new building was completed, planning permission was sought for the second one. “We got it and we managed to get Scorpion back again because they have done a lot of building for us over the years,” Mr Broster said.
Inside the second building a Chief continuous flow drier has been installed which the farm did not have before. “It will be a big asset to us here. We can move the wheat from one shed to another if we need the extra capacity.”
With the old system, tractors used to queue up to tip their loads of grain into the stores as soon as the combines took the crop off the fields. With the new buildings, there will be no queuing: in an ideal year at below 15% moisture content, it will be tipped straight into the first of the two new sheds and there won’t be any drying costs.
In the old buildings, it was slow to turn round loads of grain. “If you are cutting 80 tonnes an hour with a combine, tractors and trailers are queuing to get into the shed, so there is down time on that machinery.”
“If it is going to be a wet harvest and we need to dry the wheat, it will come to a large tip and go intake pit and go through a 50 tonne an hour conveyor system and 25 tonne an hour dryer. It is a fully automated continuous flow system so we can just tip and go.” Farms cannot afford to have expensive combines standing idle and with harvest times becoming shorter because of more variation in the weather, the grain storage system has to be fast and flexible enough to respond.
If the weather is dry, the grain can be stacked right up to the roof using the belt conveyor system for the new building. If some comes in wet later on, it can be dried and put into the second building. On both of these buildings, we have extractor fans so we can have the air flow through the building which is a big improvement, because there is sometimes a build up of condensation if you have drawn it out of the wheat.”
“Scorpion have been very flexible on the design. When we first thought of the second building, the lean-to area was going to be part of the store, which would have put the capacity up. As we are over capacity anyway, we decided to split the lean-to with three bays for a machinery workshop and four bays for storage, including fertiliser. On farm now, we have a very good workshop where we can do our own repairs.”
Thinking back to the fire which ruined the straw barn, Mr Broster said security would be tight at the new stores. “I live on site anyway, and we positioned the workshop so that it could be seen from the yard. These buildings are very secure with their steel roller doors.”
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