Plan for Growth When Adding Grain Storage

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Kirchhoff Farm's long-term storage plan is to continually match storage capacity with production improvements to better position itself for pricing opportunities in the market. (DTN photo by Dan Miller)

Bin sites evolve by enterprises that come and go on the farm. There is such a bin site in Nebraska that tells the story of Kirchhoff Farms. One mile north of the Kansas state line, outside Hardy in Thayer County, Matt Kirchhoff farms within a family corporation across four counties and also with his wife, Cindy, and son, Blake. This farm does not count on rain to water its corn and soybeans. Two-thirds of Kirchhoff Farm's ground is irrigated.

"My grandfather got into certified seed production first with milo, and then that evolved to seed corn, which is what we were up until the early 2000s," Matt Kirchhoff said. "We switched over to grain production after that, and we immediately saw a need to add storage capacity."

The farm's bin site is a roomy, square-shaped 4 acres with solid infrastructure. Grain trucks travel onto and off of the facility by way of Nebraska Highway 8, the two-lane road just feet away. Three-phase power is delivered to the site from Kansas. A natural gas main line is 100 yards away.

The west side of the yard is bordered by a half-dozen smaller bins, each with 7,500 bushels of storage. They were key to the seed business and are still in use. With the arrival of commodity grain, the Kirchhoffs 12 years ago added two GSI bins, each 48 feet in diameter.

"We thought, 'Wow, we really made some big changes,'" Kirchhoff recalled of what was then a big investment. He wasn't wrong. It turned out the Kirchhoff's two bins and 13-inch auger were not keeping up with two combines, more acres and higher yields.

More of more is an ongoing fact on the farm. Kirchhoff can see a day when the farm will produce 300 irrigated bushels. "We're not quite there. But, by initial changes that we've made just in the last year or two, we now believe that's attainable."

With that new production, storage creates new opportunities, he said. "If you've got [grain stored] on the farm, you don't have to take it anywhere, they'll come and get it from you."


The Kirchhoffs added new storage. In 2021, they contracted with GSI dealer Summit Contracting, Seward, Nebraska, to put up a third bin. Overseen by John Southwick, with Summit, the newest bin dominates the yard, 48 feet in diameter, 50 feet tall and 85,000 bushels of capacity. The project included a grain leg, a shallow dump and sump, and preliminary work to accommodate future expansions, such as the four footings poured to support overhead storage.

"As things continued to grow and yields improve, it becomes evident what we need to keep doing," Kirchhoff said. "Along with our market adviser, we thought that we were going to see some real benefit by storing more of our own, controlling our harvest progress a little closer and not relying on the local market so much right when we actually needed to get the grain out of the field," he added. "So, we overbuilt it. I'm glad we did. But, it just amazed us how much our productivity increased."

The Kirchhoffs are considering additional bin space and that overhead bin. "We wanted to do this in a systematic approach, not just a one and done," Kirchhoff said. "You only build something as big as you can dream. But, for future generations, this probably won't be big enough. We want to make sure that we make this usable for a long time at levels that will exceed [our needs]."


Kirchhoff offers insight into their approach to grain storage.

-- Flexible Design. The bin site has a common unload/load area. He kept the leg on top of the ground. The shallow pit is about 5 feet deep with a sump -- ground here doesn't drain well. He can store other crops, not just all soybeans or all corn. "We've kept that ability," Kirchhoff said. "In the future, that'll come into play more."

-- Truck Stop. "We want to make it easy for the truck drivers," he continued. Every function drivers need to control the bins can be done by way of outside control pads positioned to the left and right of the drive.

-- Grain Leg. "Adding the leg has hugely changed the way the operation works. The leg takes all the constraints from our unloading and loading speed," Kirchhoff explained. "We put almost 30,000 bushels in there one day, which doesn't sound like a lot; but it was coming from a long way away. You can't do that with the local elevator. And, we only did it with two trucks."

-- Dryer. A dryer is further down the road. "Ninety percent of the time, we can get our corn to dry in the field down below 15%," he said. "But, we do wonder if we're not [seeing] phantom yield losses. We're intrigued by that. But, that's a whole other expense."

-- Next Steps. "I think the next step is probably another bin and an overhead. We have the opportunity to continue adding more storage," he said. That's going to be driven by Kirchhoff's productivity. "Our yield goals are increasing. Probably a lot bigger than I ever thought they would. That's what's driving this."


Jay McGahey, GSI regional sales director, offers five keys to a well-designed grain system.

1. LOCATION: Locate a grain system near a major roadway for year-round opportunities without seasonal restrictions.

2. EXPANSION: Include space in the layout to accommodate new bins and equipment.

3. POWER: Three-phase power is a necessity for high-capacity dryers. Where three-phase power is not available, a phase converter can be used.

4. TRAFFIC PATTERNS: Avoid bottlenecks. During the design phase, simulate loading and unloading to test traffic efficiency.

5. BUILD NEW OR EXPAND: Expansion is an option if there is enough space and new components fit with existing equipment. A good option is plan to expand from the beginning.


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Dan Miller