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Built for the Future

December 7, 2013
By: Margy Eckelkamp, Farm Journal Machinery Editor and Test Plot Director
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It’s important to plan, budget and design a grain system that meets today’s production needs and can expand along with the operation in the future.  

Top tips to design a grain system for longevity

There’s been a surge in on-farm grain storage investments since 2009 when the wet harvest

exposed the weak links in grain systems across the country. Add in the increase in farm size and larger-capacity combines, and farmers have multiple reasons to update and upgrade their grain systems with the bigger picture in mind. Here are some of the top trends and lessons with on-farm storage.

Farmers have learned the hard way that commercial storage can’t serve as a backup if their unloading and drying systems are maxed out.

"There has been a lot of consolidation of the smaller co-ops," says Glenn Andler, general manager at Vita Builders in Fall River, Wis. "I had a farmer invest in a grain system because he wanted to control when he dumped his grain. But it’s important to know that increasing your unloading leads to drying, which ripples to storage. With higher yields, a farmer will need a bigger dryer and bigger leg. Without long-range planning, the cost of a do-over could outweigh doing it right the first time."

That reality is encouraging farmers to make a greater investment in planning and budgeting each aspect in order to build a grain system that is sufficient for many seasons to come.

Handling system. "It’s a matter of volume and a matter of capacity," says Charles Hurburgh, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State. "In many cases, handling systems were updated in response to the bottlenecks because it took too long to unload wagons. Some of the investments in handling equipment were to make capacities just plain bigger. For example, a farmer may install a 5,000-bu.-per-hour leg instead of 3,000 bu. per hour."

Based on information from Kansas State University, once the system’s capacity exceeds 100,000 bu., a leg should be part of the system to handle, blend and turn grain.

The capacity of your handling equipment should be based on the unloading times of your grain trucks. A 1,000-bu. semi unloading in 10 minutes needs to be matched with handling equipment that has a minimum capacity of 6,000 bu. per hour.

If using a pit, then the unloading time is based on the expected time between loads. Changing the unloading time from 10 to 15 minutes reduces the handling equipment capacity from 6,000 bu. per hour to 4,000 bu. per hour. A new facility using a bucket elevator should have a minimum capacity of 5,000 bu. per hour.

Drying capacity. "Investments have been in handling and then drying capacity. Bin space is easy to put up. What farmers have been focused on is getting the trucks and wagons back to the field. In general, we’ve found out that it’s fairly easy to outrun the capabilities of drying systems," Hurburgh says. "It used to be that 50,000 bu. to 70,000 bu. in storage was the cut range between a bin dryer and a centralized handling system with a continuous dryer. That wisdom isn’t too far off still, but as long as we didn’t have to dry much, it really didn’t matter."

He notes that previous high-moisture harvests have also been high-volume and high-yielding years. All of those factors at once created the insufficient drying capabilities.

"For a lot of producers, if you have to do much significant drying, the continuous dryer is the way to go," Hurburgh says. "There are many shapes, forms and sizes of continuous dryers to best fit a system." 

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - December 2013

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