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Drying needs drive demand

The Wednesday between Christmas and New Year’s was pretty good for Richard Minnick. On that day alone, he sold $910,000 worth of grain storage and drying equipment.

“I’m busier this year than I’ve ever been,” reports Minnick. “My sales are up 50%.” As a dealer of GSI and DMC grain equipment in Quincy, he expected to sell $2 million worth by the end of January; instead, he met that mark by mid-January and now expects to sell $3 million worth by the end of February. At this point in an average year, he’s sold 15 bins. This year, he’s sold close to 30.

Key Points

• Grain bin and dryer sales are up dramatically across Illinois.

• Demand follows wet crop year and lost profit for grain quality.

• Construction crunch may limit bin supply.


“A lot of farmers are trying to get away from the elevators,” Minnick says, adding that many farmers who hadn’t dried corn for years got caught in the fall of 2009. Following that drying debacle, when corn simply didn’t dry down past 20% moisture — even in December — Minnick says continuous-flow dryers are “selling like hotcakes.” He sold about three a week in January.

“A lot of the young guys had never been through a wet year. It’s a rude awakening for them,” Minnick adds.

Burning gas

Cameron farmer Dan Elliott has seen wet years, but 2009 was the first year his operation was slowed down by the dryer. “We burnt more LP this year than in the previous 10 years together,” says Elliott, who farms with son Doug, brothers Rob and Rick, and father Ralph. “We contracted twice the normal amount ahead of time and blew through that in the first two weeks.”

This winter, the Elliotts are penciling out some kind of expansion to their 975 MC dryer that would increase drying capacity by 50%. “We’ll either add another stage on top, or add a whole other dryer,” says Elliott.

Indeed, across the board, it appears Illinois farmers are looking for ways to increase on-farm storage and drying capacity in the wake of the 2009 harvest. Roy Michels, structures manager for Wabash Valley FS in Grayville, reports his sales volume is up 30% over the same time last year.

“People seem to be taking advantage of early-season programs and order discounts to make sure they’ll be ready for this coming fall,” Michels says. The best prices are available through February; then discounts begin to trail off.

He doesn’t foresee any supply shortfalls, adding that manufacturers have positioned themselves well. Construction may, however, be the limiting factor. “We will reach a point when we’ve sold all we can put up this year,” Michels notes.

Take the long view?

Following a season when so many paid to dry so much, it’s little wonder dryers are popular this winter. Whether stacked or tower, continuous-flow dryers are penciling out well. Michels reports that lower propane costs saved everyone in ’09. On-farm drying costs this fall were about 2 cents per bushel per point of moisture removed, compared to 3 to 4 cents in ’08.

“Most elevators charge 4 to 5 cents per half point to dry grain, so that’s a substantial savings to have your own on-farm drying facilities,” he adds.

Some farmers are even taking delivery on dryers this month to dry ’09 corn before hauling it to the elevator. Minnick has one customer with 250,000 bushels of 19% corn who’s putting in a dryer to take it down to 15%. “With a 50-cent dock on 250,000 bushels, that’s $125,000,” he says. “The dryer costs $115,000.”

Yet farm management experts caution against making decisions based only on last year, and Avon grain bin dealer Bill Thompson agrees. “To run out and buy a new grain dryer, you’re kidding yourself because it’s such a big investment. You have to think, ‘What’s going to be normal?’ ”

And yet Thompson, who also farms near Avon, put in a new dryer on his own farm this year and already has sold several in 2010. He acknowledges that it can be necessary when you needed it before 2009. In his case, he wants the ability to get harvest under way earlier.

He also points to a customer who bought a dryer 10 years ago and used it for parts of a couple of seasons. Then it sat unused but ready to go in 2009, and it paid for itself. “What was the value of it sitting there for backup? Pretty high, I’d say,” Thompson adds.

Solving problems

Coping with the major storage headaches of the 2009 crop is tops on many farmers’ lists, especially those who had to power-wash screens on their continuous-flow dryers to keep them from plugging up. Minnick has recently sold several Grain Handler dryers, which have no screens and claim to be 35% more efficient.

Minnick also has a customer who added two KleenAir grain cleaners to the back of his dryer, which pulled out three-fourths of the fines and chaff. KleenAir units are made by Production Sales in Kansas.

Storing a moderately wet crop is no picnic either, as many farmers are now battling plugged center wells in their bins. At press time, another of Minnick’s customers had four 100,000-bushel bins plugged up in the center. What to do?

“I don’t know; pray that it’s going to come out!” he says.

Bins become plugged when the top spoils and crusts over, and the spoilage moves down the grain bin. Then as the farmer unloads the bin, those chunks of grain drop down into the center well and plug it. To prevent this, Minnick came up with a guard that keeps the chunks out; at 30 inches tall and 30 inches square, it’s built like a four-sided pyramid and made of stretched metal. It sits over the center well, and the farmer pulls it out before running the sweep. “Corn flows through, but chunks can’t get through it,” Minnick adds.

Should you buy a dryer?

How do you decide what dryer you need and whether you really need it? Two grain sales gurus share the questions they ask their customers:

1. How many bushels a year do you want to dry? That’s the first question, says Avon bin dealer Bill Thompson.

2. How many bushels per day do you need to dry? Know how much you need to move away from the combine.

3. How many weeks do you want to allow for harvesting? Everybody has an idea of how much they want to do in a day, but thinking about harvest length in terms of total weeks is more realistic and useful.

4. What kind of electricity do you have? Whether you have single phase or three phase at a location could determine your drying capacity.

5. What kind of road are you on? “You don’t want a big setup on a crummy road,” Thompson says.

6. Can you be more efficient? Replacing an old dryer makes sense if a new one is 25% more efficient, says Roy Michels, Wabash Valley FS.


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WEAKEST LINK: “Every year you find your next bottleneck — planter, combine, bins, dryers — whatever!” says Dan Elliott (left), pictured here with nephew Jimmy Morrison, son Doug and father Ralph on their Cameron farm. “It’s that ‘weakest link in the chain’ syndrome.” To strengthen the link, the Elliotts will increase drying capacity by 50% before harvest 2010 rolls around.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.