Even though drying costs can put a bite into the fall harvest season, there are ways around it.

However, “people need to keep things in perspective,” says Bill Wilcke, University of Minnesota extension engineer.

Wilcke offers these options to save fuel this fall without costing yourself money in the long run:

  • Watch overdrying. Although some grain managers like to reduce the risk of spoilage by drying to low moisture levels, corn at less than 14-15% moisture can cheat you with its lower weight and increased kernel damage. You'll also lose dryer capacity and spend more on Btu's.

  • Use natural-air drying with fans instead of heat. “You tend to use fewer units of energy per bushel for natural-air drying, but electricity tends to be more expensive,” says Wilcke. However, it might end up being cheaper if the relative cost of electricity is less than the relative cost of propane or fuel.

  • Use combination drying. Brought to about 20% moisture in a dryer, the grain is then finished in a bin equipped for natural-air drying.

  • Harvest whole-plant corn silage or high-moisture ear corn. This may be a consideration for some livestock feeders. However, it takes the right harvesting equipment and storage facilities.

  • Consider ensiled high-moisture corn, harvested at 25-30% moisture and allowed to ferment in storage. But be sure to start harvest early to avoid too much drydown before the silo is full. Corn that is drier than 25% moisture probably won't ferment properly.

  • Consider slower cooling methods. At about 17% moisture, hot, nearly dry grain is moved into aerated storage to lose the final 1-3%. Not only does this method reduce physical stress and cracking, “it could represent a real energy savings and a substantial boost to the capacity of your dryer,” says Wilcke.

  • Extend that concept to dryeration. Leave hot, almost-dried grain in storage for at least 4-12 hours. “You'll maximize the amount of moisture loss during cooling, and if you cool at the end of that tempering period, you could lose 2-3 percentage points of moisture,” says Wilcke. However, move grain after this period so condensation in the bin doesn't cause spoilage later on.

Whatever the drying method, “it's important to get the moisture to the target for your marketing plan,” he adds.

Cliff Willhite of Hector, MN, agrees. Primarily designed to preserve quality, increase safety and lower labor costs, his grain drying and storage system is so efficient that the sting is taken out of any high fuel prices.

Several components meet his objectives, starting with five bins totaling over 130,000-bu capacity and a 100' Schlagel leg. By transferring 5,000 bu/hour, it allows Willhite to operate one semi alone and make fewer trips across the field. The full-heat dryer moves 290-450 bu/hour and drops the corn to about 17% moisture. Hot grain is then metered into a pneumatic grain conveying system, which blows the grain into full-floor aerated storage to cool slowly and lose the final two or three points of moisture.

“I had good quality before I had the system, but now I'm handling more at the same rate,” says Willhite.