Because storage could be tight take time to consider alternatives. One option for you to consider—grain bags, which temporarily store grain in the field.
“It has been really popular now that people are familiar with the concept and how easy it is to bag and store,” says Doug Haley, who does product development, design and dealer training for Loftness Manufacturing. Loftness is a Minnesota-based company that sells grain bags across the U.S. and Canada. “The main thing about grain bagging is you have an option to start harvest when you want, even when the elevators are full.”
USDA pegs the country at another year of bin-busting yields, with records expected in some states. Based on these reports and updated quarterly stock reports, parts of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota are at the greatest risk of elevator space shortages, according to Angie Setzer, vice president of Citizen’s Elevator in Michigan.
While you might be familiar with grain bin storage, grain bagging is a different method altogether. Follow the ‘dos’ and avoid the ‘don’ts’ to avoid major missteps in this alternative storage option.
Manage expectations and follow guidelines to be successful.
“Grain bags cost about five to seven cents per bu., not including bagging equipment costs,” says Craig Fisher, owner of Antelope Farm Supply in North Dakota. “It’s very important to keep in mind this is temporary storage.”
Grain bag lifespan is about two years, Fisher says. A bagger can cost around $24,000 and an extractor costs about $34,000. Bags can hold anywhere from 13,000 to 34,000+ bu. of grain.
“Using grain bags can decrease some need for labor, too,” Haley says. “Instead of trying to have six or seven people available to drive semis they can have two or three.”
Even with fewer laborers needed, communication is critical so grain bags are filled properly. As the grain wagon dumps into the bagger both need to move forward slowly so the bags don’t overfill in one spot and create a weak area. In a 10’ diameter bag you can put about 44 bu. in one foot of length.
“The number one mistake customers make is they try to put 10 pounds of potatoes in a five pound bag,” Haley says. “You just want to stretch it enough to get the wrinkles out, don’t overstretch the bag.”
Any excess stretching in width takes away from the length of the bag and can make the bag more likely to rip or have other damage in the stretched spot. The normal farm-sized bag is 10’ in diameter while commercial bags are 12’ in diameter. Loftness does sell to co-ops, including one co-op that stores about five million bu. in temporary bag storage.
Planning is critical for grain bag success. Avoid traps that could lead to spoiling and grain bag failure by carefully placing the storage.
“When you have thousands of acres to choose from you want to make sure you find what is most ideal,” Fisher says. You don’t want to place them where water will pool around them or a high-traffic area for hungry wildlife. Ideally, you want to put it in a high area with a slope that 2/3 of the bag can goes uphill and the last third downhill, to ensure water runs away.
Grain bags might not work for you. It’s a high-management, hands-on system that requires you to move product in under two years. Know your management style before pulling the trigger on grain bags.
“It takes a bit of attention to detail in how you close bags, where you place bags and how long you keep them out,” Fisher says. “It’s not hard, it just takes time.”
In addition, if you’re used to harvesting at moisture content higher than about 17%, bags might not be a good fit for you. They can handle some moisture because the grain has no oxygen while in storage, but too much can cause problems.
As you review your storage situation consider what you can do to hold out for better marketing opportunities. If your bins run full and the elevator does, too, grain bags could be a profitable temporary option.