Manufacturers help fix vexing grain bag problem

Tighter rolling a major help | Manufacturers are responding to demands from farmers who are tired of the mess

Nobody likes seeing wads of spent grain bags piling up along the bush line or in dugouts, especially farmers.

The more producers use grain bags to store bumper crops or as an alternative to permanent grain storage structures, the more piles of bags they create, says Curtis Chapman of Canadian Tarpaulin Manufacturers in Saskatoon.

“Grain bags are here to stay. We just have to live with that fact,” he said.

“But we have to develop acceptable ways to dispose of them. We can’t ignore them any longer.”

Rob Wierenga of Neeralta Manufacturing in Neerlandia, Alta., agreed. His company recently re-designed its grain extractor in response to farmer concerns about the growing grain bag disposal issue.

“We talk to guys all the time who are frustrated with the situation,” Wierenga said.

“A grain bag is an excellent storage device. Some guys use them for overflow. Some guys use them instead of investing in steel bins. But whatever the case, in every conversation about storage, the frustration over dealing with the plastic always comes up.”

Wierenga said used bags are bulky and heavy and a problem to deal with in the field if not immediately rolled up. They get caught in tree lines after a big blow. They get buried in snow after a blizzard. In the spring, they get bogged down in mud. Farmers try pushing them with dozer blades and using buckets to load them onto trucks.

Doug Hilsabeck of Renn Mill Centre in Lacombe, Alta., was one of the first manufacturers to build a bagging system about 15 years ago.

“The baggers came first. The grain extractors did come along later on; after that, better ways to deal with the bags,” said Hilsabeck, who makes the Farm Boy and Series 12 grain bag unloaders.

He said the extractors his company sells have a built in winding spool system, which uses hydraulically powered rollers that roll the used bag into tight bundles.

“We’re glad to hear there are more companies looking at ways of recycling the bags. For 80 percent of farmers, (the bags) create that surge capacity they need for grain storage. Twenty percent use them exclusively for storage,” he said.

“But getting the bags into a tight bale is an important part in the recycling process. That’s why it’s part of our system.”

Wierenga’s machine also turns the bags into compact bales rather than leaving them as looser rolls.

“It winds the empty bag so tight that you can get a 300 foot bag wrapped into a 36 inch diameter bale. It will even handle 400 foot bags,” he said.

Hilsabeck said unloaders should have a built-in bag reroller rather than having farmers use a second machine to roll bags because it helps producers get their bags into the recycling stream quicker.

Chapman thinks there’s a new sense of responsibility on the part of the people who build and sell grain bags and grain bagging equipment.

“I think there’s been an attitude breakthrough. One of the factors preventing this from happening sooner was the lack of push from farmers,” he said.

“Farmers really want this problem solved and out of the way. They’ve started telling industry this has been a big nuisance and they want to get it resolved now.”

As one step in that direction, a grain bag recycling depot will open in Saskatoon July 15. Chapman said his company has worked with Simply Ag Solutions to set up bag drop-off yards in Saskatoon and Humboldt, Sask.

The Saskatoon and Humboldt depots will share a bag roller, which will be available for free.

Farmers return the roller and rolled bags to the depots when they have rolled their used bags. Simply Ag Solutions calls in a semi-truck when the depot has 100 to 120 bags, and the rolled bags are shipped to Oregon for recycling.

Most of the grain bags on the market today lend themselves to rolling, but Chapman said there are still problems with some low-cost Asian-made bags.

“Some companies are still having trouble making a properly performing bag. A lot of the Asian-made bags are failing in our Canadian winters,” he said.

“When they crack in cold weather, it’s not a small split. It’s like a zipper popping open. It usually runs the whole length of the bag. It’s a real mess to clean up, get all the grain out and then roll it up.”

Chapman said his company does not make grain bags, opting instead to buys bags from manufacturers and re-sell them to farmers.

For more information, contact Chapman at 306-933-2343 or visit www.cantarp.com, Doug Hisabeck at 403-784-3518 or visit rennmill.com, and Rob Wierenga at 780-674-5338 or visit www.neeralta.com.