Build a Farm Shop for the Future

Design Tips for a Long-Lasting Shop

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Farm Shops are generational investments that ought to last 20 to 30 years. Planning needs to consider everything from location to the technology your sons and daughters will be using in 2040. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

Pull back the doors, look inside and it hits you square in the face: "Crap, I need a bigger barn."

And so the process begins -- sketches on a napkin evolve into final blueprints. What's your new farm shop going to look like? What's it going to do? Where's it going to go? How will it serve the farm today and 20 years down the road -- for example, space for new technologies like wi-fi towers or solar panels? Is the design flexible enough to meet business needs for both the farm, and something else?

We asked our friend Dan Nyberg, sales training manager for Morton Buildings for his best advice for building a new shop. Here are some of his thoughts.

-- Build the biggest shell you can afford. Farmers don't often tell Nyberg they built too large -- but they have built buildings that are too small. Visit a neighbor's new shop. "Just being able to see how big 'XX' foot by 'YY' foot is for yourself can be extremely helpful," Nyberg said.

-- The best tool for planning your shop is a tape measure. Measure the footprint of equipment that will have a permanent or temporary home in the shop. Is there room for a general maintenance area, perhaps a maintenance inspection pit? Can your planter unfold in the shop? Imagine space for the planter in pieces and something else. "Just when you have that planter torn down with parts spread out, you will have another piece of equipment that needs some TLC," Nyberg said.

-- Calculate space needs for new equipment -- unfolded. With autonomous operations, account for the space (and infrastructure) required by multiple, but smaller vehicles.

-- Consider the footprints for dedicated work areas. Welding, lubricants storage and service, a diagnostics bay, workbenches and cabinets, parts storage, compressor room, wash rack, conference room, office and bathroom-shower-laundry combo.

-- GenNext. Give your next generation input into the new building. Give them space to pursue a hobby or another enterprise -- restoring cars or operating an e-commerce business. Nyberg is convinced that "making space for them and what they value can have a really big impact on their ultimate desire to be part of the farm operation."

Add all that up and drive T-posts into the four corners of that theoretical footprint. Drive around the area for a few weeks. Park equipment inside the footprint. Measure the distances to other sheds and outbuildings, to grain facilities, to roads and drives. Ensure semi-trailer trucks and your largest equipment can move freely around its perimeter. Test door locations for most efficient traffic flows.

Resist the temptation to settle on the first location. The easiest place to put a building may be the wrong place. Consider water and power needs. Consider locational needs that arise with autonomous operations. Download a Google Earth image of your farm to help identify the best locations.

Nyberg had specific thoughts on shop design:

-- Height. Does ceiling height account for the height of your current and future equipment inventory? Tillage equipment with wings folded may be higher than the top of a combine. Bin extenders on a combine add a foot or 18 inches to its height. Ceiling lights reduce ceiling clearances.

-- Doors. Overhead doors require 'headroom' to account for the curve of the track. A building with an 18-foot ceiling may have room only for a 16-foot overhead door opening. Hydraulic doors require headroom for hinges -- you lose almost no space. And a bonus -- a 66-foot-wide hydraulic door creates 66 feet of outside, covered space when raised. Hydraulic doors should include windows for views of any equipment parked outside closed doors.

-- Walk (service) doors. Well-placed walk doors "raise the satisfaction level in the shop," said Nyberg. They enhance the movement of human traffic. Install walk doors adjacent to parking areas and near the shop's equipment doors.

-- Staging area. Gravel and concrete staging areas provide space for cleaning and light maintenance. Rule of thumb: A staging should equal the width of the building. A 60-foot-wide shop should have at least 60 feet of the staging area. These are good locations for compressed air and pressure washing equipment.

-- Traffic. Create space for employee, vendor, family parking. Consider space for a fueling area and fuel trucks. Garbage, packing materials and empty containers should have space that does not inhibit traffic movement or line-of-sight.

-- Visual connection. Visual connection allows the owner to look out his office window and see what he wants to see. Does he want to see the weigh scale or monitor truck traffic? Visual connection helps determine shop design and orientation.

-- Heat. Hire a heating consultant and install ceiling fans to mix warm and cool air. In-floor heat is comfortable heat. The heat is radiating past you. Varying the spacing of in-floor tubes manages heat distribution. For example, a drive-through semi-truck maintenance area would benefit from a concentration of tubing to more quickly melt snow in the winter.

-- Power. Qualified electricians draft recommendations for the shop's electrical service, lighting package and electrical plugs. Outlets every 10 feet around the shop are not too many. Several outlets for welders should be placed around the shop, especially near the main doors. Don't forget outlets for battery-operated tools and radios, and outlets for cell phones. It is not crazy to thing about the day when you will need outlets to charge the batteries of electric vehicles.

-- Compressed air. Consider a sound-insulated, well-ventilated space for the compressor. It's hard to have too many air drops (with drains). Install a drop, with water, at each of the main doors.

-- Data. Consider your need today and 20 years from today for data collection, management and disbursement -- and the hardware that allows all that to run into, around and out of your shop. Another good place for a consultant with vision for technology.

-- Office. Office design is thick with detail, especially as the hub of data management. Consider the basic desk. A day-to-day desk requires a certain amount of space. An area for maintenance records may require a desk, a large table, printer and space for storage cabinets. You might want a drone desk for storing and maintaining drones, and a station for downloading imagining. If the family business includes a semi-retired father or grandfather, it is courteous (and caring) to give them a desk, too.

-- Finish. Control costs by leaving some portions of the shop unfinished for completion later. Position the building so it can be expanded at either end. An end-to-end addition is the most cost-effective. If that layout doesn't fit the location, install a doorway header into the sidewall where the current shop and new space will someday meet.


Editor's Note:

This is one in a series of America's Best Shops. If you have a farm shop you'd like us to feature, send a note to:

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Dan Miller