Grain dryers perform a vital task in the modern food chain. The concept is simple enough, with the reduction in moisture content of the grain from up to 30% to as little as 8%, depending upon the type of grain being dried. Grains can include a wide range of crops, from wheat and corn to barley or oats. Drying is carried out to limit the growth of microbes and low temperatures are also desirable.
In the US, large, off-farm continuous grain elevators are the preferred grain drying method, while in Europe, the typically smaller farms are better suited to the mix flow dryer type. A batch dryer is mostly used on the farm itself and they are normally made up of a bin through which heated air flows horizontally from a central cylinder with a perforated steel surface. The air flows across the grain radially before being expelled into the atmosphere. The drying time of the grain varies widely, form around one to four hours depending on many factors, such as the type of grain, moisture content, atmospheric conditions and depth of grain in the dryer.
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The drying of grain is still an active area of agricultural research. The energy used to complete the process continues to get more expensive, so computer programmes are used in order to model the performance of a train dryer; and by taking into account various factors involved in the drying period, such as chemistry, physics and thermodynamics, a better drying rate can be achieved. A benchmark in the process is the creation of 'bread making ' quality grain, and another is the percentage of grain that germinates.
The actual grain drying process itself is fairly simple. It starts at the bottom of the grain dryer bin, where the grain first makes contact with the air. This dry air is pushed up by a fan to meet the initial layer of wet grain. The grain drys in a layer up to two feet thick, often referred to as the drying zone. This drying zone moves from the bottom to the top of the drying bin and when it arrives, the grain is dry. The air is then forced out of the grain dryer via exhaust vents.
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