How Not to Handcuff Yourself when Planning On-Farm Grain Storage

How Not to Handcuff Yourself when Planning On-Farm Grain Storage

There are many reasons farm operations might want to expand grain storage and drying systems. Your trucks can’t keep up with your combines at harvest because the local grain elevator is too far away. You’re tired of moving augers around and spending too much time unloading trucks. You want to eliminate the pain of taking drying discounts. You just want to retain ownership of grain to increase your marketing capabilities. Whatever your reasons, make sure you plan ahead when building a grain system to give yourself future options and flexibility.

“A long-range storage plan will give you the ability to do what you want and not be handcuffed by what was done in the past,” explained Bill Winchell, District Manager for Brock Grain Systems. “You may be trying to solve a pain that you have right now, but also include what you are planning on doing three, five, 10 years from now. You want to make sure what you do today doesn’t cause a greater amount of pain later.”


Location, location, location.

Site location is a critical part of any grain system. Beyond having physical space for the diameter of bins you need, there are several other considerations for long-term success.

“You want to make sure the electrical service on the site will meet the additional demands of aeration fans or dryers,” said Winchell. “Are you at the end of a transmission line where you can’t get more power? Is there a nearby gas line or easy access for fuel delivery? What will expansion do to the traffic patterns? Does it make sense now to have a second driveway coming out of the farmyard to make it easy for trucks to enter and exit? If you need that additional driveway, do you need to talk to the state, county or township to get permission for the second access onto that road?”

These are all questions that your grain systems dealer can help you answer, to make sure your site is ready to handle your needs today and in the future. Your dealer will also help you consider environmental factors such as the direction of prevailing winds and soil stability.

A 48-foot diameter, 24 ring bin with a 63,000 bushel grain capacity weighs over three million pounds. With even larger bins becoming more common, soils on the site should be tested to make sure they can support these extreme weights.


How are you using the bin?

One of the first considerations when designing a grain storage system is determining your application needs. If you want to store grain right out of the field or are dumping hot grain from a dryer, you need to consider airflow. You may also want to design for long-term storage of cool, dry grain.

What size fans or how many CFM of aeration per bushel do you need? Do you put power roof exhausters on the bin? Do you need to install temperature cable detection? These are all factors that a grain systems dealer can help you analyze and determine based on your use.


Harvesting on your schedule.

Having your own drying capability on site and being able to harvest corn on your schedule can make a big difference for convenience and productivity. Winchell explains that it’s important to consider yield loss during dry down. “A University of Nebraska study says that if you have corn in the field at 26% moisture and you let it dry down to 15% in the field, you can lose 8% to 15% of your yield. So, to keep control of your crop and harvest it when it’s the right time, that’s a profitable thing for a farmer to do.”

Having an efficient grain facility also helps farmers complete harvest earlier, which leaves them more time for fall field work.


Building in stages.

Grain systems can be planned in stages, but they have to be done in a way that makes economic sense.

“Sometimes farmers must bite the bullet and say, you know what, I’ve got to spend a little more today to accomplish what I may need five years from now. If you add more storage, you want a way that it’s easy to get grain into the bin from the current handling system.”


Making your plan.

As Mike Tyson famously said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. “Sometimes Mother Nature hits you in the face and your plan has to change,” said Winchell. “If you have a disappointing harvest. you can simply push your five-year plan back another year. But at least you have a plan to move forward.”

Brock dealer, Troy Voth of Lodermeier’s Inc. also encourages his customers to start the planning process early. He is already scheduling projects into the summer of 2023. Another one of their customers is working on financing for an expansion in 2024.


Timing your purchase.

Most bin companies, including Brock, have early order programs in the late fall or early winter that offer discounts on grain storage, handling, structures and drying equipment. Winchell recommends that customers start planning for system expansions early so they can take advantage of these reduced material prices. Also, farmers who plan ahead often get a better installation price and schedule date from the dealer.

“Financing is another important thing to get lined up,” said Winchell. “Customers should be talking to their bankers before they even get quotes in hand. Depending on your provider, it can take several weeks to several months to secure financing. Grain system prices can change within that timeframe, and you don’t want to lose the discount advantages when you’re ready to pull the trigger.”


Getting the right advice.

“Now it’s common for 60-footers, 72-footers and even larger diameter bins on farming operations,” said Winchell. “Those bigger projects require so much more thinking. It’s certainly more critical to do everything right. You don’t want to miss anything when planning for expansion.”

All these details point to the value of having a good relationship with a competent grain systems dealer. Choosing the cheapest option isn’t always the best option.

“I’ve just seen it way too many times when we lose a bid to somebody else,” said Voth. “The customer comes back to us a year later and tells us that they wished they had gone with us the first time because we had things figured out and done the right way.”

“It’s better to work with the guy who stepped into the pothole full of mud years ago, and now knows how to avoid it,” continued Winchell. “As a farmer or grain elevator manager, you don’t necessarily know where that pothole is, and then you find yourself slogging your way through it. Experience, knowledge and capability are attributes a good dealer brings to the table.”