Break Bottlenecks at Harvest

January 8, 2011 04:58 AM
Break Bottlenecks at Harvest

There’s no one-size-fits-all grain system, which means every farmer needs to put some thought behind its design.

“Grain systems are an investment tool to manage assets,” says Gary Sorgius, vice president of Ripco Ltd., a family-owned business that specializes in custom design and construction of grain systems. “With a harvest season like 2009, farmers were exposed to every weakness in their grain system. With late crops, late harvest, wet bushels and tremendous production, all those factors added up.”

It’s not just unpredictable conditions that are prompting many farmers to rethink their grain storage.

“Lots of customers who have built a system in recent times now have to look at more storage because yields are increasing,” Sorgius says. “It used to be that we would plan for a grain system with 70 bu. to 100 bu. per acre yields. Farmers haven’t doubled average yields yet, but we certainly will in the next few years.”

According to Sorgius, in 1965 the average bin size was 24' diameter with 8,000-bu. capacity. Today the average is 54' diameter with 100,000-bu. capacity. That represents a doubling of the bin diameter and a more than tenfold increase in tank capacity.

“The short-term plan is to buy a big bin so it will be the last one, but a system needs to be able to expand,”

he says. “If you plan ahead, your grain system will be able to grow with your business.”

Whether expanding a grain system or constructing a new site, the Ripco team uses the acronym READS: road access, electrical service, accessibility for expansion, drainage and soil test.

“Good road access is so you can get in and out whenever you want to,” Sorgius says. “Your grain is an asset. When the market dictates you need to be hauling, you shouldn’t be limited.”

Something as basic as electrical and gas service seems like a given, but investigating the possibilities before finalizing a location is a must. Sorgius says some farmer clients have had to change sites because getting service was prohibitive. He adds that you want three-phase or at least good single-phase electric service available.

The ability to expand, even if you think it’s years down the road, hinges on planning for that possibility now.

“You need plenty of room around the site, especially when starting over from scratch with a new site. You need a place that is somewhat level,” Sorgius says.

A soil test is part of the grain system preplanning because of the weight of storage systems, foundation and pit designs, and drainage concerns.

“A soil test is necessary because it’s good to know what’s underneath so you won’t have subsurface obstructions or stability problems,” Sorgius says. “Larger bins have 3,000 lb. to 4,000 lb. per square foot loads. When you build a tower dryer, you have to get a lot of concrete for wind stability. If you can’t dig down, you have to raise everything up.”

Throughout his years of designing and building grain storage structures,

Sorgius has gleaned these pointers and lessons from farmers:

  • Trucks can haul more grain and farmers are running multiple trucks, which demands a faster way to move grain. When it comes to changes, many farmers wish they would have bought a bigger loadout bin. A large loadout bin used to be 3,000 bu. capacity, then 5,000 bu. and now it is 10,000 bu.
  • To keep grain clean, producers say installing a small trash fan can pay big dividends.
  • Select a grain dryer based on the system’s true capacity. “All grain dryer capacity is based on wet basis—that’s the wet bushels going into the dryer. It’s what you put in the dryer, not what you get out,” Sorgius says. “Automatically take 10% to 12% off the rating to get what should be a fairly realistic capacity,” he adds.
  • Safety is also a concern with dryer selection and placement. Exhaust dryers will attract dust and dirt to the outside in cold and damp weather. Sorgius advises powerwashing the dryers from the outside to keep them clean. A platform kit makes reaching the area to clean much easier.
  • As grain storage systems increase in capacity, so does the risk of grain condition and quality failure.

“As you get larger and larger structures, you have to step up management techniques that will give you information,” Sorgius says. “This includes heat cables and monitoring systems. You have a perishable commodity that demands top management.”

  • If you plan to move bins, there are important considerations to weigh before the first bolt is turned.

“When you tear down a bin and move it to another site, you need a certificate of insurance on the contractor and builder’s risk insurance so you’re properly protected,” Sorgius says. “If you resell a bin, make sure you have a certificate of insurance on the person who is tearing that bin down. That is a gap a lot of guys fall into.”

  • Wind damage claims are another consideration. It’s important to have your policy re-evaluated and reassess your grain system every few years and with each expansion to properly protect your investment.

AgConnect 2011

Grain Systems for Today and How to Expand for the Future

Saturday, Jan. 8, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, Ga.
Speaker: Gary Sorgius, Vice President, Ripco Ltd.

This presentation will focus on grain system design for the large grain farm operator and will cover material handling, storage and drying.

Sorgius will also discuss site selection, various types of handling, applications and different drying methods. This session will apply to existing facilities and will conclude with ideas on future expansions.

Visit to learn more.

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