Allen Armstrong was frustrated by how long his trucks waited to unload at his farm near South Charleston, Ohio. With five semis bringing grain in from 4,000 acres, wait time would often cause harvest to grind to a halt.
That's why three years ago he invested in three-phase power and added a 165,000-bushel bin and some rings to an existing bin to increase its capacity by 10,000 bushels, bringing total capacity to 395,000 bushes.
All told, he nearly doubled storage size, but that was only part of the answer. For real speed, Armstrong added a 1,000-bushel grain pit, dropped into a room with 18-foot concrete walls, 18 inches thick — a place he affectionately calls his basement.
He replaced the farm's 40-year-old dryer with a tower dryer rated at 1,800 bushels an hour with five-point removal. His conveyor can now run grain on both sides of the complex.
"The ability for any conveyor including the pit drag to be able to feed either leg is important, because if during harvest the receiving leg would break down and a major weather event was imminent, I could still continue to harvest by flipping the valve and using the other leg to continue to fill my wet bin," says Armstrong.
The new grain pit is "like an additional semi-truck and trailer," he says. "The ability to turn trucks back to the field quickly is very important. Before, the trucks would take 20 minutes to unload. Now, if they are scattered properly, they open their doors, unload automatically and return to the field in less than two minutes."
Running lean >>
Bob Manning and sons Rob and Joe, of Granger, Iowa, farm 7,000 acres with just two tractors (JD9460RT and 9560RT), one 90-foot planter, and one combine with an 18-row head. "To add more acres we'd have to add more equipment, and those prices are sky-high right now," says Bob.
Like Armstrong, the Mannings also view their grain facility as an extra harvest tool. Their grain bins hold 1 million bushels, and their dryer is sized for one combine to run 24 hours a day.
"The key is to handle the bushels without bottlenecks," says Bob. "In our setup it's very important to have the ability to get rid of grain on a 24-hour basis. With our yield goals, we're able to store 1 million out of the 1.4 million bushels we expect to harvest.
"That grain facility is like a second combine because it allows us to get acres harvested fast so we can get our ripping and tillage work done," he says.
"It enables one tractor to rip acres right behind the combine, from the first of September."
Both Armstrong and the Mannings try to keep labor and equipment costs as lean as possible. "Equipment is expensive, and you have to stay in it longer hours," says Bob. "We go 24/7 with our planter. That way you don't have to worry about when you're going to start and when you're going to quit."
Grain farmers often trade for new iron each year to minimize downtime. But the Mannings will keep this fleet another year and possibly a third, if grain prices remain where they are today.
"We're about as lean as we can be," says Bob. "We couldn't take on another 1,500 acres without doing something on the equipment or labor side. But it's better to be lean or even a little under-equipped. Why have that capacity if you don't need it?"