Plan storage beyond expectations

There are three reasons why many farms have a bigger and better grain handling and storage facility than the wooden-crib elevator that once stood a few kilo-metres down the road:

Farms are bigger, and so are yields.

Producers are doing more of their own drying and cleaning.

The corn tsunami forced growers in Canada’s growing corn regions into bigger facilities to accommodate all that air space between kernels, which was an unheard of problem when wheat and canola were the main crops.

The size challenge snuck up on some producers, said Gary Woodruff, grain conditioning manager for bin maker GSI. They hadn’t read the handwriting on the wall telling them to plan for more expansion.

“When I started on the road in 1977 as a district manager, the typical commercial grain elevator had a capacity of 80,000 to 100,000 bushels and a dryer that handled about 300 bushels per hour. Today, our average customer has two to three times that capacity on the farm,” Woodruff said.

“Even if you never add one single acre to your cropping operation and you never plant one single corn seed, you still need to plan for more storage and handling simply because of the fact that the trend for higher yields will continue.

“Another reason some producers have found themselves behind on storage is they think of their setup as nothing more than a bunch of grain bins. But that’s no longer the case. These are commercial installations in terms of bin capacity, type of equipment, drag conveyors, large augers, dryers and everything else.”

Whether a producer is starting a new yard from scratch or upgrading an existing facility, Woodruff said it’s essential to plan for expansion. He says that failure to plan for expansion results in costs up to three times higher when the time for that inevitable expansion rolls around.

He cited four points producers should keep in mind:

Leave space for installation of more bins in the future.

Create a traffic pattern for separate dumping and loading stations. Loading and unloading simultaneously shortens harvest time.

Future expansion of drying and wet storage must be part of the initial design. Choose an in-bin or out-of-bin high capacity drying system to match your farm needs. As the total number of bushels increases, plan on adding a higher capacity dryer or a second one.

The different grains to be stored determine the number of required bins, even though the sizes will vary. Rather than putting a large quantity of one grain in a single bin, it may be better to invest in two or three smaller bins, which will be easier to manage and offer more flexibility.

Woodruff said it’s unrealistic to think the grain transportation system and the end users will ever be able to keep pace with production.

Farmers will always be responsible for babysitting the crop until it’s left the farmgate, he said, but they often overlook a major component of that process: wet bushel storage capacity before the dryer.

“What happens is you can put in a higher capacity dryer to handle more grain, but if that dryer won’t run overnight, then you’re not getting your money’s worth,” he said.

“You might dry the grain faster, but it’ll run out of grain at midnight and then it’ll sit idle until six in the morning. You’ve got to increase your wet holding capacity if you want to make the dryer pay for itself.”

Woodruff said farmers should consider two or three smaller sized bins for each type of crop rather than one large bin. The general pattern as farms grew was usually to add a 20,000 bushel bin, then a 25,000 bu. bin, then 50,000 bu., 100,000 and maybe a 250,000 bu. bin. So whether by plan or by accident, farmers ended up with a variety of bins sizes that gave them good flexibility. They only add a bin when they need it, and at that point they generally need the next size bigger.

“The change we’re seeing in the past two or three years is there are a lot of brand new grain bin installations going in right from scratch on a flat piece of ground,” he said.

Farmers have typically been putting in extremely large bins, but Woodruff warned that that means they’re putting all their eggs in one basket.

“They’re two completely different animals, and they need to be managed differently,” he said.

“What if you market half your grain by January. Well, that’s OK because you can store that at 15.5 percent, no problem. But what if you need to hold the balance until June. Well now, that has to be down at 14.5 percent. How do you make that happen in one big bin? With a variety of smaller bins, a farmer can segregate according to moisture levels and anticipated shipping dates. We get guys saying, I’m putting up a new installation so I want a big dryer and a 500,000 bu. bin.’ We kind of wince when we hear that.”

He said cost per bushel is another factor. It’s obvious that cost per bushel drops as bin size grows from 25,000 to about 250,000 bu., but somewhere around the 250,000 to 350,000 bu. point, the cost per bushel increases because of the additional concrete and the next level of required equipment.

“Not a lot of guys consider that they’ll need more handling equipment,” he said.

“Height is another factor. The taller you get, the more challenges you’ll face. If you have to buy two more drag conveyors, your efficiency of scale goes right out the window.”

Things to think about, beyond the farm’s capacity needs:

  • electrical service
  • site drainage
  • ingress, egress and winter access
  • fuel source for dryer
  • distance from fields
  • distance from home
  • safe covered storage for equipment
  • Availability of internet link and cameras
  • grain theft security
  • local fire department and insurance factors.

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