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Corn+Soybean Digest

Dream Grain Handling Systems

If Wayne Knewtson's forecast is accurate, he'll never buy another grain bin again — ever. With 52 bins on site at his south-central Minnesota farm, he believes he can accommodate all the identity preserved (IP) and seed business that comes his way.

All his bins are intricately woven together to store and move up to 100,000 bu of beans. In addition, his three Harvestore silos store more than 80,000 bu of dry, non-GMO corn.

“Over the years we've bought about 20, 3,000-5,000-bu bins from area farmers who got bigger and needed bigger bins,” says Knewtson, who heads Knewtson Seed Company at Good Thunder, MN.

“We've picked them up with a rented crane, hauled them, poured concrete foundations and set them down,” he explains. Bins cost him about $500-700 apiece, plus another $1,000 for concrete and $1,000 for pipe to connect each of them to grain legs.

Knewtson added his last seven bins, each 5,000 bu, two years ago. His largest bin stores 20,000 bu of beans.

Originally begun in 1950, Knewtson's family business relied on certified seed trade. But today, 70% of his bins are used to store IP food-grade beans destined for the Japanese market. Most are shipped in 30 kg bags. About 30% of his beans are still seed beans, and you won't find any commodity beans on the premises.

The operation has a total of nine elevator grain legs; four of those are in the seed plant. He purchased the other five used from a distribution company and an old local grain elevator that closed. All were erected by him, his son, Adam, and a couple of employees.

“We're pretty handy around here, but you've got to be able to climb,” he says. The Knewtsons also built a new 56' × 42'-high seed plant with a 30' × 70' floor last year.

Legs ran from $1,000 to $5,000 each. “It actually cost us more to put the pipes on the legs,” says Knewtson. “We also paid $10-12/foot for 8” downspouts. The leg is always the cheapest part. If we hadn't done the work ourselves it would have cost us twice as much.”

Knewtson says the grain legs are a huge convenience over augers. “They're low maintenance, low labor and work well for small bins. If we added more bins now, we'd have to add another employee. Right now, one man maintains all the storage.”

The system also has three dump sites, the latest added in 1998. Each is run by a dry conveyor with rubber flights instead of augers.

The Knewtsons farm 2,000 acres, half soybeans and half corn. They also provide specialty seed beans — tofu, nato, miso and colored beans — for about 20 area farmers who then market their beans back through his operation. In fact, with all the bins, he begins making storage assignments in March.

To make his dream system complete, Knewtson would like to add a bigger scale and replace a couple of the smaller, slower grain legs. “But that's about it,” he says.

As a rule, the trend in grain handling is to build bigger bins, says Roger Slaughter, salesman for Eldon C. Stutsman Inc., Hills, IA, a farm equipment dealership.

Even though farmers are moving more toward specialty grains, Slaughter says they're not selling an abundance of smaller bins. “Most farmers already have smaller bins. They're buying the larger 7,000-50,000 bu-size and using their smaller, existing bins for specialty grains.”

Mark Stutsman expects his family farming operation to move more and more toward grain segregating. “It's our future and where we think we'll find our premiums,” he says.

Right now, the Stutsmans farm 2,500 acres at Hills, IA, and have a total grain storage capacity of a whopping 150,000 bu. Of that, they're already producing and segregating 40,000 bu of high-oil corn on contract. And this year, they've backed off their Bt corn acreage and will begin segregating non-biotech corn.

The Stutsmans began prepping for more segregated storage in 1998 when a straight-line windstorm blew through their southeast Iowa farm. It demolished one bin and badly damaged three others. It also blew both grain legs down.

“We were just scratching our heads trying to figure out where to expand so we could be more efficient,” says Stutsman.

The storm helped them decide. “Our goal was to reduce our labor to one guy on the combine, one running the auger wagon and one on the grain dryer,” Stutsman recalls.

So, they completely replaced the storm-demolished bin with a new 10,000-bu bin. They then used parts from the downed bin to fix the roofs on the three damaged bins. They also installed a new 100' grain leg to do the work of the two wrecked by the storm.

Their current system is a far cry from the four 10,000-bu bins built in the early 70s. “And it should be,” says Stutsman. “We took plenty of time investigating what others had done before we built.”

Now, their new Grain Systems Inc. (GSI) system includes six 12,000-bu bins, five 9,000-bu bins and one 26,500-bu bin. All are tied together with a new DMC air conveyor and GSI leg and dryer system. Cost for the bins ran anywhere from $1.25 to $1.80/bu. The Stutsmans are also dealers for GSI.

This year, they're adding a grain bin monitoring system with grain probes in each of their bins. The probes monitor moisture in the center of the bin as well as near the outside wall. Since all bins are complete with aeration and full floors, they can quickly be cooled down if needed. “We're pretty excited about this,” Stutsman says.

In hindsight, Stutsman wishes they'd have installed a bigger dump pit. “It holds 500 bu and that was enough when we had 200-bu wagons. Now we use bigger wagons and semis and occasionally have to wait to dump,” he says. “Fortunately, we're strong on wagons and can store up to 4,000 bu with them.”

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