Storing liquid fertilizer can be a hassle – and an expensive one at that. It bothered Bryan Corn enough that he began looking for an alternative way to store liquid fertilizer that didn’t involve erecting concrete silos and retaining walls. Corn is the operations manager for Indiana-based Wykoff Brothers Farm.
Just 20 miles away in South Bend, Ind., GTA Containers, Inc., was busy manufacturing rugged but mobile collapsible storage containers for a variety of military and industrial clients. The company creates fabrics using polyurethane PVC and nitrile or neoprene rubber coated with nylon or polyester. The resulting fabrics are durable enough to store relatively corrosive materials such as diesel fuel.
The other main advantage is size versatility. The company can build containers that hold between 3,000 and 210,000 gallons. Height determines how much pressure the fabric has to bear, Addicott explains, so the designs tend to be long and low – up to 100 feet long, but just a few feet high.
All of this led Addicott to believe there might be some useful applications in row crop agriculture. And that’s where Bryan and Jason Wykoff entered the picture.
"We talked to a few farmers about it, and Bryan and Jason were the first ones who took off and ran with it," Addicott says.
It was an easy concept to convince Corn, who actually had prior experience using similar types of containers.
"I spent 11 years in the military, so I’ve seen the ones that store diesel fuel," he says. "GTA did tests at their facility to see if it could bear the weight and corrosion of liquid fertilizer. It could, so we gave it a try."
The result was three custom-built storage containers, the largest of which tipped the scales at 130,000 gallon capacity. Corn selected an abandoned hog barn where he could store the containers out of the elements. When they arrived, it took 12 people to unfold the containers and get them installed. But after setup was complete, Corn says they began to see benefits almost immediately.
"We estimated a 25% or more increase in efficiency," he says. "Last year, we were having a lot of problems getting everything we needed in a timely manner. Now, we’re able to get up and running whether or not the coop is open or closed, and there’s no more waiting in line."
Addicott notes that storing the containers inside was probably a good idea – UV exposure is a primary factor that degrades the fabric’s lifespan.
"The military fuel and water tanks made from the same general construction, are used outside in some pretty brutal conditions," he says. "In Iraq, experience has shown that even with the extreme exposure to UV radiation tanks can last as long as 10 years. We expect fertilizer tanks to last five to 10 years outdoors and from eight to 15 years or more if located inside, such as is the case at Wykoff Farms."
The setup also includes a depression in the ground that is covered with a liner supplied by GTA. Drains are installed in the liner to remove rainwater.
For now, the converted hog barn is the ideal place for the containers, but their mobility presents a unique advantage should they ever need to move them.
Storing fertilizer is just one potential use of the containers in agriculture, Addicott says. He speculates that farmers could use them to blow in grain for storage, or hold onto large quantities of water for irrigation purposes.
"There are actually quite a few options possible," he says.