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Why these farmers like their grain systems

In 2008, just one year before the harvest that lasted through Christmas, Effingham, Ill., farmer Gary Wachtel boosted his wet holding capacity and installed a new tower dryer.

In 2009, Wachtel started shelling corn at 30% moisture. With the new 22,000 bushels of wet storage and a tower dryer that could handle 2,000 bushels an hour at 5 points removal, he was able to harvest 30,000 to 40,000 bushels a day with two combines.

“I guess it was pretty good timing,” he says with a chuckle. Obviously, extra wet-storage capacity is one of the things Wachtel likes about his system.

In more relaxed years, the extra wet holding capacity allows him to dry more slowly, thereby storing better-quality bushels. “We like being able to turn the heat down and handle the grain more gently,” Wachtel says.

Key Points

Farmers appreciate extra wet holding capacity.

Good planning results in a system that can grow over time.

A convenient scale and large dump pit allow fast unloading.


Prior to the upgrade, his wet holding capacity was 7,000 bushels. “Removing that bottleneck has really allowed us to push hard during harvest,” he notes. “Now we can run two combines with no problem.”

Plenty of wet holding capacity is something many people appreciate if they have it, and dream about getting if they don’t. How easily they can provide for it may depend upon how well their system was laid out.

Space to grow

Proper layout from the beginning, even for systems started by a father or grandfather, is another thing farmers appreciate today. Tim Swanson farms 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in Bannister, Mich. The farm was transitioned to him in 2002 from his father, Ken, who was a self-made farmer.

Ken constructed his first 30,000-bushel bin in the early 1970s, and quickly added another 30,000-bushel bin the next year, which was followed by steady expansion. The farm now includes 800,000 bushels of grain storage and another 400,000 bushels of outdoor temporary storage. Today, their operation also serves as an elevator for local farmers.

“It was never our intent to be a merchandiser,” Tim says. “It was for on-farm storage.”

But as the operation grew and local farmers recognized Ken’s marketing abilities, the farm started taking on grain from the surrounding area. According to Tim, his dad started using the futures market early on when most farmers didn’t understand the practice yet.

“One key feature to consider when you start laying a storage facility out is to always leave room for expansion,” Tim says. “As our farm and bushels grew, we never had any wasted equipment or space.

“The facility was never under-utilized, and we didn’t have to abandon anything. Everything that we originally put up, we are using yet today.”

Allowing room for expansion was the mantra of Bruce McKenzie, a retired Purdue University ag engineer who specialized in advising farmers about construction of grain systems.

“Plan how big you think it should be; then double it,” McKenzie often advised.

Other pluses

Don Villwock, Edwardsport, Ind., incorporated both strategies — plenty of space and copious amounts of wet storage — when he built a new facility. After a utility took his farmstead, he had to build from scratch. Villwock is also president of Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. Jason Misiniec, Edwardsport, keeps the farm purring when Villwock is away.

Villwock knew he wanted two things: a scale long enough for a semi, and a bigger unloading pit so trucks could dump more quickly. He incorporated both features into his new grain setup.

The scale is 70 feet long. “It sits above the ground, so we don’t have to mess around with a pit,” Villwock says. “This way we don’t have to fight water.”

The pit they constructed for dumping trucks holds 300 bushels. “We want to be able to dump as fast as we can,” he notes. “As it is, we can dump a semiload of corn in about seven minutes.”

Farm Progress editors Josh Flint, Jennifer Vincent and Tom J. Bechman contributed to this story.

What experts want most in on-farm grain storage

For storage bins, not drying bins or dryers, Charles Hurburgh, professor of ag engineering at Iowa State University, observes that many on-farm grain bins need a good monitoring system to keep track of grain temperatures. It’s hard to track grain temperature and maintain grain quality in large storage structures.

Hurburgh says a system that records temperature data over a period of time is most useful. Increases in temperature of stored grain indicate heating, alerting farmers to take prompt action. You’ll either have to remove the grain or run some air through it with fans to prevent spoilage.

“In the larger bins there’s no practical way to manually take the temperature of the grain and get a representative reading,” says Hurburgh. “Take a normal thermometer, shove it in the grain, and you have a temperature at that point. But grain is a good insulator, so only 10 or 15 feet away, grain temperature could be quite different.”

The most common monitoring systems drop a wire into the grain at several places, with thermocouples every 10 feet or so. You get a readout on each cable. If there’s 50 feet of grain, there may be five or six thermocouples reading temperature, and you have four or five cables in the bin. So you get 25 or 30 readings.

That increases the odds of finding something wrong, such as a hot spot. It doesn’t always mean the cable will go through the hottest grain, but if you get a spot where the temperature is starting to rise, you know somewhere near that thermocouple, there’s a problem.


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Timing is everything: This construction work in 2008 paid off big-time for Illinois farmer Gary Wachtel in 2009.

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Weigh power: An aboveground scale means no fighting water in a pit, Don Villwock says.

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Space is good: This shot of Tim Swanson’s grain center in Bannister, Mich., shows how good planning by his father, Ken, helped it evolve over time.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.