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Grain bags vs. grain bins

Aaron Smith Grain Bags
Storage bag at the edge of a corn field.
While there are advantages and disadvantages to both, a new Grain Bag and Bin Storage Calculator can help producers find the best fit for their farm.

Storage is a powerful risk management tool for grain producers. Storage allows producers to reduce harvest delays, avoid seasonal price lows during harvest, expand their marketing window, and harvest grain at higher moisture – if drying or aeration is available.  

There are two main options to store grain: grain bins and grain bags. Is one better than the other? What do prep and maintenance look like for each? And what are the operating costs? 

Aaron Smith, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture sought to answer these questions through research. Smith discovered advantages and disadvantages to both, while also developing a Grain Bag and Bin Storage Calculator designed to assist producers in estimating the cost between the two storage options.  

Grain Bags 

Grain bags have recently grown in popularity among producers in Smith’s home state. Grain bags typically range in size from 10,000 to 18,000 bushels and allow for up to six months of storage. This allows producers to keep their combines working during harvest by reducing the hauling and unloading time at elevators. In addition, storage capacity can be rapidly adjusted based on the year’s production. 

Grain bags can be filled at the edge of a field or in a centralized location. They’re typically filled in a straight line to make unloading easier and should be monitored for tears and damage to prevent insect and rodent damage to the grain inside.  

Grain bag filling, monitoring, and unloading are all things to consider among other costs such as equipment and labor.  

Grain Bins  

Grain bins, on the other hand, can be constructed in a wide variety of sizes and configurations. This allows producers to hold grain safely for extended periods. However, grain bin construction can be capital-intensive and storage quantity is often fixed.  

Each storage option has its advantages and disadvantages and is outlined below. 

Grain Bag and Bin Storage Calculator 

To aid producers in deciding between storage options, Smith and colleagues created a decision aid that allows producers to modify specific expenditure variables to obtain a total or per bushel cost estimate for each. 

This calculator factors in machinery, equipment and other operating costs, and is available for download at  

Bag Advantages 

Reduced harvest delays/lower transportation cost 
Field’s edge storage 
Adjustable storage amount 
Loads and unloads faster than a grain bin 
No fixed structure on the farm 
Does not affect land taxes 
Can change storage capacity rapidly 

Bag Disadvantages 

Cannot harvest at higher moisture levels 
No drying capability or aeration 
Possible wildlife and human damage 
Loading/unloading can be difficult 
Not suited for long-term storage in the Midsouth 
Partial storage can be problematic 
Bag disposal 

Bin Advantages 

Longer storage 
Drying and aeration possible 
Depreciable asset 
Harvest at higher moisture levels/earlier harvest 
Load and unload in multiple truckloads 
Wider variety of grain storage 
Not prone to as much human and animal damage 

Bin Disadvantages 

Fixed structure 
More difficult to expand storage rapidly within a season 
May affect land taxes 
Higher upfront cost 
May increase insurance 
Slower load and unload times, compared to bags 

Source: University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.   
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