On-farm grain storage: planning for profit
Author: Andrew Kotzur (Kotzur Pty Ltd) | Date: 04 Dec 2018
Take home message
Storing grain on farm should not be seen as a foregone conclusion, rather it must compliment production and improve returns to the enterprise. Planning is an essential pre-cursor to a profitable, on-farm grain storage system. Planning does not necessarily define a complete facility, but rather provides for foreseeable requirements as well as keeping options open to accommodate changes in production and farming systems.
It is thought that humans have been storing grain for about 11,000 years. The ability to store food (particularly grain) began the unlocking of human potential by freeing up time to think and pursue activities aside from the daily requirement to source food.
Grain storage is, in many ways, no different in today’s environment. Grain storage should free up time and resources as well as provide the tools which allow growers to pursue further opportunity. Overall, grain storage must improve efficiency and profitability of the farming enterprise.
Define the desired outcomes
Growers who are most successful in operating on-farm grain storage have a clear set of goals which define their on-farm grain storage system. These goals typically include some (or all) of the following;
- Managing the harvest efficiently and effectively
- Reducing and/or reallocating (in favour of the grower) supply chain costs
- Providing greater marketing opportunity for the crop produced
- Providing a “fodder” storage for stock production
- Adding value to the grain produced.
Design for safety and integrity
Safety is emerging as a key driver in decision making in rural industries. There remains significant opportunity for improvement in the grain storage space. Areas to consider with respect to safety include;
- Structural integrity
- Safe access (into and onto silos, to equipment) or eliminating “at height” operations
- Safe equipment (guarding, zero entry out-loading, electrical, pesticide application)
- Safe surrounds (traffic and equipment movement, powerlines).
Structural integrity in design is much harder for an end user to evaluate. Whilst we have various Australian Standards (such as AS 3774 – Loads on Bulk Solids Containers, and AS 1170.2 – Wind Actions) relating to silos and structures, compliance is not mandatory and is not checked or enforced by any agency.
The areas to consider are those where we most commonly see failures;
- Footing design (designed for soil type, engineered for the structure and associated equipment)
- Silos engineered for bulk solids loading
- Wind loading.
Design for the crop production patterns
Grain production varies between regions and individual growers. A grain storage facility needs to be tailored to suit production. The design will take into account;
- Crop variety and production volume (total storage volume, silo size/number of segregations)
- Crop types (legumes require “gentler” conveying systems, aeration for oilseeds, hopper angles to suit grain types)
- Fill/empty cycles (high cycle silos will often be elevated/hopper bottom)
- Harvest patterns (intake rates, simultaneous intake and out turn)
- Future growth (more crop types, increased yields, increased farming area).
Design for efficiency and reliability
The efficiency of a grain storage facility is not easy to measure and needs to be considered together with cost (capital, running, maintenance). A high capacity, highly automated facility may be considered efficient, but not appropriate for the typical Australian grain production operation. To “future proof” the design stage would usually include the allowance to add dedicated conveying and automation at a later time. An efficient design will ensure;
- Grain inload rates should not impede the harvest process
- Flexibility around grain moisture levels (i.e. higher moisture harvest)
- Labour input is consistent with efficient resource allocation (and labour availability)
- Managing out turn to minimise time and labour. While intake at harvest is generally the high priority, being able to out turn quickly at any time reduces cost and stress on the farming operation
- Grain management in the facility is simple and effective. This applies to inspection and sampling, insect control, cleaning, drying, blending etc.
Reliability is one of the easier facility performance indicators to measure. Grain storage facilities need to be available as and when required. Breakdowns at harvest or repetitive reactive maintenance will add significantly to the cost of storing grain. With the increasing size of grain farming operations, we have seen capacities and throughput volumes increase to levels well in excess of those typical of the commercial facilities of years gone by. This means that facility design must consider the appropriateness of equipment, ease of maintenance, equipment alarms, condition monitoring, chute angles and wear points.
Design for quality and value add
If there has been an area where on farm storage has most evolved in the last 25 years, it is in the quality and value add space. This has been driven by increased crop diversity, crop value, crop pricing increments and increased grower awareness (in particular the extension work funded by GRDC). Quality and value can be realised through on farm storage in a number of ways;
- Maintaining grain moisture and temperature (spoilage, viability, colour, processing characteristics)
- Insect control (and chemical contamination)
- Reduce physical damage
- Minimise cross contamination
- Provision of inventory control
- Provide traceability (identity preservation).
Further design considerations
There are a range of factors which are unique to each operation. These are used to optimise integration of the facility into the total farming system, to enable efficient management and to minimise capital cost. Whilst not conclusive, these factors are summarised as follows;
- Integration with existing grain storage – pros and cons. (Will the new storage be “Greenfield” or “Brownfield”)
- Site location relative to crop production, all weather road access, other farming activities (for supervision and operation) and residential precincts
- Soil type and drainage (both are important and have cost implications)
- Availability and size of mains power supply
- Land title boundaries (which may impact borrowings, future value as a separable asset)
- Future change and expansion plans.
Like any farm asset, grain storage may be both an imperative (e.g. feed and seed storage) and discretionary (to improve efficiency). Like any asset, it must provide a return. It is vital to have a clear plan, with defined goals and expectations around farm grain storage development. This plan is the key driver in facility design.
Kotzur Pty Ltd
60 Commercial St,
Walla Walla, NSW, 2659
Ph: 02 6029 4700
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