Construction of Tom Farms’ commercial-size grain storage facility started in 2008 with one bin. A second bin was added in 2009 and a third in 2010.
Semis unload and hit the road in under eight minutes
Four years ago, the crew at Tom Farms could run their combines for only a half day before they’d have to quit to let the 1,200-bu.-per-hour dryer catch up. Now the farm’s 2.25 million bushels of storage and 4,700-bu.-per-hour dryer keeps two combines running all day and handles deliveries from about 15 storage customers, with nary a pause.
"One day last fall, we took in 61,000 bu. of corn and 11,000 bu. of beans," says Kris Tom, who designed the system with his father, Kip, and Tim Yagel of Yagel Grain Systems, Columbia City, Ind. "We also loaded out 11,000 bu. of beans, which we accept here and move to another storage facility."
Building a commercial-size system for their Leesburg, Ind., operation ensures the Toms will never run short of room for their crops. Their facility includes three 750,000-bu. storage bins, a 28,000-bu. wet holding tank and two 5,000-bu. loadout tanks.
Automated drying. Designed for fast, convenient and gentle grain handling, the system features state-of-the-art technology, such as a Brock Quantum dryer controller.
The controller makes it possible for just two people—Kris and Greg Rowland, both of whom work for CereServ Agronomy & Grain, the farm’s commercial storage enterprise for grain and fertilizer—to operate the facility.
The controller anticipates the final moisture content of grain reaching a bin, then manages the moisture content as the grain passes through the dryer.
It matches the discharge speed of the grain to the capacity of the unloading system, automatically reducing the heat if it reaches the unloading rate limit.
"We dial in how much moisture to remove, and the controller adjusts the unload rate and burner temperature," Kris says. "When the dryer is running, it takes control of all the conveyors."
At the start of each day, the operators tell the controller which bins to dump into. The controller records the date the corn went in.
When the dryer is not operating, the operators use a separate control panel to turn the receiving leg, dry leg, two top conveyors and bin gates on and off. The receiving leg serves all three bins, the wet holding tank, the dryer and both loadout bins. The dry-grain leg takes dry corn away from the dryer.
The first 650,000 bu. of grain in each bin can be automatically unloaded. "A programmable logic controller [PLC] in the office opens the center gate of the bin," Kris explains. "When the loadout tanks are full, the PLC automatically closes the gate."
Rapid unloading is critical to the truck drivers. "They like to dump at the Tom facility because they can be gone in minutes," says Brock Grain Systems district sales manager Rich Geiser.
With the ability to dump both hoppers at once, using two pits—one for each hopper of the trailer—a driver can pull into the facility, unload and pick up his scale ticket in 7 to 7½ minutes. The actual unloading process takes 3 to 3½ minutes. "At our old facility, it took us 45 minutes to unload a truck," Kris notes.
Trucks follow a circular path from the road to the scale, to the dump pit, back to the scale and onto the road. "When we planned the system, we sketched three or four traffic flow
layouts," Kris says. "We kept coming back to this one."
Touch-screen accounting. At the scale, the driver swipes a card with his name, the farm or company he’s hauling for and his commodity. Then he pushes "inbound" on a touch-screen monitor and pulls up to the unloading pit. Moisture and test weight samples are collected as he dumps. He returns to the scale, scans his card, pushes "finish" and "print," collects his scale ticket and heads for home. The system uses a program from Vertical Software.
|Entering the facility, a truck pulls onto the scale, with access to a credit card–type grain accounting system. PHOTO: Darrell Smith
Ironically, if the Toms were building their facility over again, Kris says, they might go with one large dump pit instead of two smaller ones. The two pits match up with the hoppers on their own trucks, but with trucks of various designs coming in from customers, they still sometimes have to unload one hopper at a time.
To safeguard quality, grain is carried from the unloading pits to the wet holding tank by chain conveyors. Elsewhere, the system uses belt conveyors. There are no augers.
Inside each bin, grain temperature is monitored by a Safe-Grain temperature detection system. It uses 24 cables hanging from the roof, with thermocouples every 3' to record the temperature. The operators can check the readings from their office or from a laptop computer.
Brock Sweep-Master augers inside the bins are operated by a control panel on the outside.
Prepared for growth. Tom Farms’ system was designed with expansion in mind.
"When we built the first bin, we laid conduit under the concrete for the second and third bins," Kris says. "That way, we didn’t have to bore underneath the pad when it was time to erect additional bins. We also installed anchor bolts for the towers. It would have been two or three times more expensive if we had installed that infrastructure later."
The Toms also installed a pad and anchor bolts to the south of the existing bins. The facility’s location allows room to expand the operation in any direction.
Even if you don’t store grain commercially, building extra capacity into any new system is a sound move, Geiser says. "Think about where you want to be five to seven years from now," he advises.
"Capacity is especially important with legs and conveyors," Geiser adds. "If you want 10,000 bu. per hour, it doesn’t cost much more to go to 15,000. Even if you don’t farm more ground, you need to allow for yield increases."
Geiser and Yagel say the system works well because Kip and Kris spent plenty of time planning and studying the features of other storage setups. When they had a basic design in mind, they conferred with Yagel.
The result of that planning, says Geiser, was "a picture-book facility."
"We’re not saying it’s the greatest system in the world, but it meets our needs," Kris concludes.
Evaluate Soil Before Building
You can set a small grain bin almost anyplace—but many soils will not support today’s huge bins.
"The soil often determines where a project can be built, and whether it can be built at all," says Tim Yagel of Yagel Grain Systems, Columbia City, Ind. "If the soil is bad, you are often wasting your time—it might cost too much to support the system."
Today’s 500,000-bu. to 1-million-bushel systems require soil that can support 5,000 lb. per square foot to prevent settling, Yagel explains. The manufacturer can tell you the requirements for the system you have in mind.
You can’t evaluate a soil’s support capacity for grain bins by observation, or through the experience of farming it. "Just because soil seems like the toughest in the county when you till it doesn’t mean a thing," Yagel says. "The only way to evaluate your site is to take soil borings. That should be one of the very first things you do when planning to build a new bin."
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- October 2011