Transfer bin; the next step in harvest efficiency?

Farmer Eric Johnson of Nokomis, Sask., said the idea to build his 5,000 bu. transfer cart hit him right “out of the blue”18 years ago. To the best of our knowledge he built the world’s first one in 2000.  |  Michael Raine photo

BRANDON — From the days of scythe and hand-tied grain stooks, hurry and haste at harvest has always been critical. Gather that crop before weather and wild beasts get it.

Urgency at harvest is just as strong today, even though we have a long list of new tools such as desiccants, Class 9 combines, speedy grain carts, Super-Bs and grain dryers.

When grain carts finally gained acceptance, they were viewed as a great tool for a quicker harvest. The grain cart helped keep the combine and semi moving. There was a significant reduction in the time combines and trucks sat waiting, plus there was a larger volume of crop coming off early and in better condition.

But the grain cart didn’t totally resolve the efficiency issue. There are still times the combine is full and sits idle because the grain cart is full, waiting for a semi to get back. If the grain cart had a place to unload, it could get back to servicing the combine more quickly.

Further to that logic, if the semi driver could take on grain the moment he got back to the field instead of sitting and waiting for the grain cart to come visit him, then the semi would also be more efficient. To add frosting to the top, if the semi could always pick up a full load without waiting, it would create even greater efficiency.

That’s where transfer bins come into play. A transfer bin is an open top temporary grain vessel with a capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 bushels and a fast unload auger. Parked at the side of the field, it allows grain carts to empty at their convenience and get back to working the combines immediately, without wasting time waiting for the semi.

When the semi arrives, the driver takes his load from the transfer bin immediately, without wasting time waiting for the cart to show. The semi should be able to take on a full load every time. The transfer bin is an especially good idea when wet field conditions keep trucks up on the road or if a farmer is fighting severe compaction in the headlands.

When harvest is done in one field, the tractor is already hooked up, so it simply tows to the next field.

Eric Johnson said the idea to build his 5,000 bu. transfer cart hit him right “out of the blue”18 years ago.

Johnson runs a 1,200 acre farm at Nokomis, Sask., where he grows a rotation of wheat, canola and peas with the whole farm entirely seeded to one of these three crops every year.

To the best of our knowledge, he built the first transfer bin in North America and perhaps the world in 2000.

Johnson works full time as an accountant in Saskatoon and runs most of the farm by himself. That means simplicity and efficiency are key factors and those needs inspired him to build what he called a transportable bin.

In a recent phone interview, Johnson said that by the late 1990s, he was tired of climbing out of the combine, up into the truck, out of the truck to unload, over and over again. It was exhausting and wasted a lot of time.

Johnson’s transfer bin strategy is somewhat different from that of other growers mainly because his operation is a one-man show.

Instead of locating the bin roadside, he sets it in the middle of a field so he can drive the combine to it, eliminating the need for a grain cart. He combines during the best harvest conditions and hauls grain from the big bin to the yard late at night or early morning when conditions aren’t right for combining.

In a previous Western Producer interview, Johnson said he used to waste three or four hours of good harvesting time hauling grain in his truck.

“The idea of this thing is to be combining at the optimum combining hours.”

The bin is 65 x14 x 12 feet high and weighs 26,000 pounds empty. Hydraulics push the 21.5 x 16 tires down to the ground for transit, and lift them back up so the bin sits on a sturdy frame when ready for filling. A nine-inch bottom auger delivers grain to the 13-inch vertical auger, which unloads at a rate of 100 bu. per minute.

Once he had the concept firm in his mind, Johnson took it to the Saskatchewan Research Council where engineers developed the blueprints. The bin was constructed by Leon Ram in Yorkton at a cost of $85,000.

“It trails very easy, although it’s a little difficult getting around 90-degree corners. The concept is living up to expectations. It’s what I wanted.”

More recently, commercially built transfer bins have come to market, one of which is the Harvest Link by Demco.

This 3,000 bu. bin features an 18-inch auger with a reach of 36 feet and capacity to move grain at a rate of 300 bu. per minute. Minimum tractor power is 200 horsepower. The hydraulic drag auger requires 35 gallons per minute. The high side is 150 inches while the low side facing the field is 133 inches. The Harvest Link travels on only four tires, so it can only be moved when totally empty. The bin is manufactured in Boyden, Iowa, and carries a list price of US$225,000.

Another other transfer bin from that corner of the world is the 4,000 bu. One Big Mother manufactured in South Dakota.

The 22-inch diameter unload auger moves 900 bu. per hour, powered by a 200 h.p. tractor. One Big Mother rides on 14 tires. The front pair have follow-type steering, while the rear tires have hydraulic steering controlled by a joystick in the cab, allowing the driver to swing the rear of the 58-foot long trailer out to manoeuvre onto driveways. This big bin is the brainchild of an Australian entrepreneur, who said the concept has been in wide use down there for years. One Big Mother carries a sticker price of US$119,000.

It took grain carts nearly a decade from the time they first became available to when they were recognized as valuable tools now employed on every prairie farm.

The transfer bin is the obvious next step in harvest efficiency, serving as an interface between grain cart and semi.

How long before we see transfer bins dotting the harvest landscape?

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