Fundamentally expanding their grain-storage facility was not something Chuck and Bryan Shelby had planned to do. But, the Lafayette, Indiana, father-and-son partnership is happy with the large -- and more importantly expandable -- facility they added to their Shelby Farms.
"We were going to go smaller," says Chuck, Bryan's father. "But, we looked at our higher yields. It doesn't do any good to have two large combines if you can't run them all day. The Shelbys farm about 5,000 acres of corn, with the best acres yielding about 240 bushels per acre.
Ray Allen Mackey operates Meadow View Farms Inc., near Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He began to modernize in 2013 a storage facility that included bins first bolted together in the 1970s. That system moved grain with portable transport augers and slow-capacity roof augers. An in-bin drying system moved only 600 bushels per hour. Rising yields on 2,000 acres of corn made a modern facility necessary.
"We were handling a lot of crop and didn't have enough storage," Mackey explains. "We couldn't operate a modern combine for more than a few hours before the dryer was backed up. It took a lot of time to put our harvest away." Mackey's operation includes corn, soybeans, Angus cows, a wean-to-finish swine operation and burley tobacco.
In 2013, Shelby Farms operated with a 48-foot diameter drying bin and a 54-foot storage bin with a combined capacity of about 100,000 bushels. Working with GSI dealer Hoosier Agri-Matic, Shelby Farms that year added a 250,000-bushel storage bin, 25,000-bushel wet bin, new grain leg and new tower dryer. The following year, the father-son team added another tower dryer. In 2017, they built another 250,000-bushel bin.
Two dryers eased their grain-handling bottlenecks. Each dries 2,000 bushels an hour (removing five points of moisture). "We may not use the full capacity of the dryers [all the time]," Chuck says, "but two gives us so much more flexibility." The Shelbys can run one all the time if the corn is coming out of the field relatively dry. Or, they can run both towers if the corn is wet and they need greater drying capacity.
Mackey greatly expanded his storage in a short period of time -- he had to. Beginning in the late 1990s, his corn average has grown as much as 40 bushels to the acre -- in some years 80 bushels. "If we don't make at least 180-bushel [average], something has gone wrong," Mackey says.
In 2013, Mackey contracted with Taul Equipment, in Elizabethtown, to build two 48-foot diameter dry-storage bins from GSI Grain Systems. Each bin added 72,000 bushels of storage to the farm. He also erected a GSI TopDry system. It is a single, 30-foot-tall structure that dries grain in a top compartment and stores it in a lower compartment.
The system uses two 30-hp fans with large capacity natural gas heaters to dry and release grain to the lower compartment every 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the moisture from the field. Additional heat is added to the drying chamber from the air circulated from the heated corn in the lower compartment. Depending on the moisture of the grain, the system can easily dry between 1,200 and 2,000 bushels per hour.
Mackey uses the early-morning hours before harvest begins each day to transfer dry corn from the TopDry to storage bins using the high-capacity conveyors and elevator.
He added a second pair of 48-foot diameter bins in 2014. He also took down the oldest bins. There was no good way to use them because of the lack of strength and capacity. His 2014 expansion efforts, minus the old bins, added a net of 70,000 bushels to the operation.
To handle an even better harvest in 2017, Mackey added a 60-foot-diameter bin with a capacity of 141,000 bushels. The modernized facility includes a wet-grain conveyor leg and dry-grain conveyor leg, a wet-grain storage hopper and two hopper tanks for simultaneous load out of grain. A WatchDog Remote Dryer Monitor allows Mackey to monitor his grain-drying process remotely, by cell phone for example. GSI's Bullseye Controller helps manage moisture by monitoring temperature in the largest storage bin.
A key to Mackey's storage operation is its location in the center of the entire farm. The trip from field to dump is no more than 8 to 10 miles in any direction. Mackey built a 30-foot-wide concrete drive over his dump pits, enough space for two semis to load and unload side by side. The facility handles each semi in about 10 minutes.
Mackey cannot say his grain-handling system has lowered his costs. Because he is handling more grain, his gross storage costs have risen. Cost per bushel has declined. The system has, in a way, created time. "We're handling more, and we're harvesting earlier," Mackey says. "We're able to preserve efficiency."
He runs a single, 12-row John Deere combine. That is "pushing the bubble," he agrees. But, he can run that combine right up to dark, putting up enough corn to keep the dryer running all night.
"That's the piece of the puzzle that makes all this worthwhile," Mackey says. "Drying grain no longer consumes me day and night."
Bryan Shelby says it is hard to put a value on his grain storage. "But, we know there is value in not stopping the combines," he says. "The storage capacity we have, the dryers and the ability to load and unload make all the efficiencies [real] in the field. Capacity keeps us moving." Shelby Farms can process 80,000 bushels a day.
The Shelbys' grain-handling system is designed for growth. And, the design sits on their computer. "We designed everything up front. All we do is implement it," Bryan explains. "Planning is huge in getting you where you want to be in 10 to 20 years."
PLAN TO EXPAND
A new facility is a generational investment. Lack of planning impacts options. "A poorly designed farm system can be as harmful as not having one at all," says Gary Woodruff, GSI district manager for Indiana and Kentucky.
"I hope our planning will serve the next generation well," Mackey says. "We were able to put together an efficient design with capacity and ease of operation. We have safety and automation, and room to grow."
Give it space. Space creates options. "[At Shelby Farms] we have three good places to go," Chuck says.
The key to expansion: location. "Don't crowd your grain system up next to other structures," says Keith Hodgen, who designs grain facilities for Hoosier Agri-Matic. The couple of acres you might lose leaving room for expansion out into a field may serve well the future operation.
"I've never seen a system where acute planning and the willingness to spend a little more up front didn't save tremendous money in the long run," Hodgen says.
So, don't fear tearing down old bins to place new storage in the best location. A 40-year-old bin will stand in the way of good planning. Add a couple rings to the new bins to make up for what's been lost in the old.
Traffic patterns are a critical planning step. "Walk the site before you build. Can the semis make the turns?" Woodruff asks. He recommends staking out the site before construction begins. Rope out the circles, then drive a semi around the future facility. Will traffic flow?
"Plan, plan, plan. Don't shoot from the hip. Think 'where,' 'how does it look', 'how will it affect your lifestyle.' It's a very good idea to check [the bin locations] with your wife," Woodruff says. "What does she hear from the house? What does she see out the window?"
Thoughts on Grain Storage:
Gary Woodruff is GSI's district manager for Indiana and Kentucky. He has been planning grain-storage systems for
45 years. Here are some of his insights on building efficient grain facilities.
Siting. Ideally, the facility would be on a state highway without seasonal restrictions with access to natural gas and three-phase power. Close proximity to fields reduces transportation time and fuel costs. Ultimately, it can reduce the number of trucks a farm runs.
Gas. Natural gas is the most economical fuel source for drying grain. Liquid propane (LP) is more available with lower up-front costs, but it is more expensive per BTU, resulting in higher drying costs. Optional heat-recovery systems, available for all GSI Portable and most Tower dryers, can bring the cost of LP per bushel down closer to natural gas.
Three-Phase Power. This brings larger motors and greater horsepower into play. Variable-frequency drives are a good way to convert single phase to three phase if it is not available. Motors over 15 hp require three-phase power. Variable-frequency drives have come down in cost and are nearly equal to the cost of three-phase motors. Consult with your electrician for the best solution.
Growth. Assume growth in yield and bushels, and plan on expanding. Leave space for additional bins, and make sure they are included in the original design. Plan on adding a higher-capacity dryer or a second dryer. This is especially important with tower dryers, as the space must be in close proximity to the wet leg.
Wet Tank. Do not assume your wet-holding capacity will always be adequate. Once you start drying more grain, an increase in your wet-bushel storage capacity will be a necessity.
Traffic. Create traffic patterns for separate dumping and loading stations. Being able to load and unload grain simultaneously decreases total harvest time. This can be accomplished with a dual width drive, or a dump drive and a side draw or load out on the other side of the bins.
Grain Types. If you are storing three types of grain, even though the amount will vary, you will need at least three bins. Do not handle all of your grain types or segregated varieties with one tank.
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