Build your own handling system

Using piece-at-a-time grain storage is a little like building with Lego blocks

Expanding your farm’s size has benefits when it comes to economy of scale.

But just like higher grain yields, the higher volume can create a schmozzle with your grain handling system.

Buying or renting new land nearly always means spreading the farm further afield. That can leave you with grain bins scattered far apart. Or, in the worse-case scenario, you might find yourself with more new grain but no new bins in which to store it.

The situation may justify designing and building a whole new grain handling system from scratch, but that would require a mammoth capital investment and that often means delaying the decision.

There is a compromise. A farmer can design the high capacity system now, plan it big enough to accommodate future expansion, and start putting it together gradually.

After decades in the business, GSI grain storage specialist Gary Woodruff said they call it an Interim Expansion Strategy.

He said there are cost-effective strategies to add more capacity now that will enable new handling and storage equipment to be incorporated into a future new system on adjacent land.

“A short-term, interim expansion this year can meet anticipated grain storage needs for 2017 at a significantly lower cost than planning and installing a completely new grain storage system. The interim facility will still provide the components of a new system in the future,” said Woodruff.

A storage or drying expansion now can become part of a later, larger system next to the outdated facility.

Woodruff said there are three areas to consider: More bin capacity, grain handling system and a new dryer.

Bin capacity — If the site allows, farmers can add one or more storage bins next to their existing storage operation and later those new bins and a new driveway on the other side can be the start to a new, more efficient storage system. The extra storage will also allow the capture of extra income by holding grain until spring or late summer.

Woodruff says that if you have ground available next to the existing site, you can put in one or two large bins strategically located as part of the overall plan for the new system. Then use a VersaLoop or some other device to temporarily transfer grain to the new bins.

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He reminds farmers that a pneumatic device can move grain further away from the dump pit and the dryer than a leg can, and do it more economically. So you may be able to install these new bins beyond the existing leg, but still use that leg for now.

“For your leg to function, you need between 37 and 45 degrees of angle. In calculating maximum distance from the leg to a new bin, you’re limited to about 1.5 feet for every one foot the leg is taller than the bin height. If you have a 100 foot tall bin and you have a 160 foot tall leg, you can put that bin only about 90 feet away.”

Any further than that and you lose slope angle.

“Another problem today is the bins have gotten so tall that you get kernel damage from the drop. Terminal velocity of that grain dropping 100 feet can cost you money.

“You see legs on farms in the range of 125 to 150 foot tall. Unfortunately, the centres of these new bins are 80 to 100 feet tall, so you’d need a 200 foot leg to reach those bins.

“That’s why you see farmers either going to a brand new site or else putting up a couple large bins next to the existing site and temporarily hit them with a pneumatic tube.

“Then they start building their new system on the other side of the new bins.”

Woodruff says there’s a hitch is trying to upgrade an older leg system.

Most of the older bins closest to the leg are low capacity and only 24 or 27 foot diameter. It’s not good use of the available square footage.

“Now if you don’t have enough ground adjacent to the existing site so you can build a whole new system, then of course, you’re forced to start from scratch somewhere else.”

The frustration of dealing with a small obsolete system often pushes growers to abandon the old site and start from scratch with larger bins. Generally, a single larger bin has a lower cost per bushel than multiple smaller bins. However, smaller bins might be needed if different crops need to be stored separately. Although farmers in corn country are now buying 48 and 60 foot diameter bins, Woodruff says big bins aren’t always the answer.

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“I always warn Canadian farmers out on the prairie provinces that their situation may be totally different. You grow a lot of canola up there. You don’t want to be putting canola in those big bins, because you just can’t push air through it. So, buy a big bin if you need it for corn, but you’ve got to remember not to fill it with canola.”

Grain handling – A new conveyor system may be needed to move grain into the new bin or bins. Conventional augers have the lowest cost, but are low capacity and higher in maintenance. Chain drag conveyor systems are a great option, but are the most expensive.

“This is a box structure with a circular chain with paddles. It drags the grain along the bottom of the box and then it dead-heads back on the top,” said Woodruff.

“But it requires maintenance, so you have to install a catwalk. It’s got to have a structure to hold it in place. It’s the ultimate way to move grain, but it is expensive.

“Today, we’re seeing a lot more guys buying VersaLoop tube chain conveyors. This is the same concept as the box chain drag, only you have two round tubes, one above the other, and you have a round paddle on the chain. It moves the grain up the bottom tube to where you want it, and it dead heads back on the second tube. It’s just a round version of the square box.”

The lower-cost, more versatile tube chain conveyor can span large distances without the support structure needed by the box. The tube doesn’t require a catwalk, it offers adequate grain-moving capacity and is easily expanded later. Woodruff said it’s typically limited to 10,000 bushels per hour, which is enough for most farms today. Electrical demand is also lower with the tube.

In some cases, a pneumatic air system can be used to move grain past the reach of the existing grain leg and can later be used in a future system. Woodruff says maximum capacity is limited to about 2,500 bushels per hour. The pneumatic is usually used behind a dryer to deliver dry grain to a storage bin.

New dryer – A stackable portable dryer may be a good option because it can increase drying capacity today and be expanded by 30 to 85 percent or more in the future with additional modules.

“What we’re seeing today in the brand new systems, is that guys put up a new leg and then locate the tallest tanks right close around that leg so they maintain that 37 to 45 degree slope. Then they use drag conveyors across the top to access other bins that will be located a little further away.

“Farmers like to talk about these setups like they’re just a bunch of bins, but really they’re not. They’re commercial sites.”

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