Folks who travel through rural America on a regular basis, visiting farms for one reason or another, can appreciate the hodge-podge of farm shops, equipment sheds and make-do office spaces farmers rely on to keep operations functioning.
They range from dirt-floored wooden structures that have weathered (some just barely) the ravages of decades of weather, to new concrete pads enclosed with strong metal sheeting attached to steel poles and girders.
Tools may be arranged neatly and efficiently on wall-mounted hangers, scattered around well-worn benches and tables or left in the beds of pickup trucks.
Most famers make whatever’s available work, to some degree, but with bigger, more expensive equipment and an increased need to limit downtime, a farmer should design his shop to reflect the demands of his operation — and make it flexible enough to adapt to future needs.
“How to build an efficient farm shop is a simple question but with a complex answer,” says Dan Nyberg, sales training manager, Morton Buildings, Morton, Ill.
An efficient farm shop, he says, “depends on the operation. The best facility will vary from farm to farm.”
The first chore, Nyberg says, is to consider existing facilities.
With the continuing trend of fewer but larger farms, farmers pick up new properties, which may include equipment sheds.
Deciding on how to incorporate those properties and facilities into the work flow may take some hard analyses. And if the farm needs a new facility, where should it be placed?
“Ask, ‘Where is the equipment and where does it make sense to put the shop?’” Nyberg says. “Equipment and tools tend to migrate. So, consider how far an operator will have to pull equipment from one place to another.”
Nyberg says moving tools and equipment from place to place often results in tools being in one location and equipment needing repair somewhere else. So, a shop convenient to as much of the property as possible is ideal.
What do you need?
Nyberg says producers should evaluate what they need to happen in a farm shop and decide on dimensions, layout and accessories. “They need space to perform mechanical work,” he says, “but they also need space to store parts, oil, oil filters, and other maintenance items.”
What about an office? “With the number of manuals farmers keep for various pieces of equipment, they need safe storage options. Most will have manuals in print, but a lot will be digital, too, so convenient access to a computer and the internet is important.”
Farmers often maintain offices separate from the farm shop, perhaps in the home. But with larger operations, more employees and more things to monitor, an office in the shop may be more efficient.
Nyberg suggests each farm operator determine how complex his operation is, or will be in the future, as he determines what he needs in an efficient farm shop and office. Running back and forth from a home office to the shop may not be convenient on a busy farm. Also, adding a kitchen area with a microwave and refrigerator provides space for employees to gather while waiting out rain storms or to grab a quick lunch.
Seasonal comfort is also important, especially in areas with cold winters. “Shops should be heated so employees can work comfortably in cold weather.”
Build for comfort
The heat source affects economics and comfort, Nyberg says.
Floor heat, with tubing for water installed under the floor, may be “more expensive to install but end up costing less for heat. It also provides a better comfort level at lower temperatures.”
Radiant heat, black tubes with internal burners, offers another option. Exhaust gas spirals through the tube as it exits and reflectors on the back of the tubes can be angled to direct heat around the shop.
“With reflectors close to a wall, heat radiates out from the wall and into the shop space. The drawback is heat shadows,” Nyberg says. “Someone working on the far side of large piece of equipment may be sheltered from heat. The reflectors will not radiate past a big combine, for instance.”
Some may select gas and forced air heat units suspended from the ceiling. “These are fairly quick to kick on and produce a response, but every time someone opens the door, you have to start heating the space all over.”
Of the three, Nyberg says, the heat slab with hot water and radiant heat tends to be more efficient.
Nyberg says mistakes some producers make with farm shops include putting the door on the wrong wall. The door for a 60’ x 90’ facility, for instance, should be installed on the 90-foot side to allow for the most depth. “That way, an operator can get an entire semi-tractor inside.
“With a sidewall door, you can get a semi in, but you can’t pop the doors open.”
The work bench may be another shop staple that has evolved, Nyberg says. “More operators are opting not to build work benches but are using mobile work stations. Movable benches on rollers allow workers to move where they need to be, lock the wheels and get to work.”
Look to future
Nyberg says the height and width of farm equipment that will be moved into a workshop will affect the design.
“Consider the size of current equipment as well as what will be coming next. What will the new stuff look like? It’s not getting any smaller, so, don’t build a shop and then buy equipment that won’t fit.
“Consider putting in more than one large equipment door,” Nyberg says. “If you pull in a combine that needs significant work that may take several weeks while you order parts and perform extensive repair, you don’t want to limit access to the shop. If the shop has two larger doors, you can come and go with other equipment while working on the combine.”
Nyberg says an efficient shop design should include an electrical outlet near a large door for welding machines and an air chuck just outside to inflate tires. Those options are important for quick repairs on good days when you don’t need to pull machinery into the shop.
Nyberg says farmers might want to build a shop in phases. “The goal should not be to get it done quickly but to build the best facility appropriate for a particular operation. One possibility is to put up the biggest shell you can, and the next year maybe add concrete; maybe install insulation later, but in five to seven years, finish a shop that meets the farm’s needs as opposed to one that fits into this year’s budget.
“Flexibility is important,” he adds. Starting out with a shell and working in it for a while, allows a farmer to determine what he needs, what the best layout will be and to “figure out the tricks that you know will make it better. Get the building up, use it that first year and figure out where things fit best.”
He says building the shell and waiting a year to pour concrete may mean a better pad. “Pulling vehicles in and out compacts the site. The base is better.”
Nyberg says facilities should be custom designed. “At Morton, sales consultants meet with customers, determine their needs and develop plans that work.”
Morton manufactures components, trusses, columns, etc., in the plant. Those are delivered to the build site where Morton crews install the building and an energy package.
“Other options — lighting, concrete, and HVAC, for instance — we subcontract to local firms. We are big on using local businesses.”
The bottom line, Nyberg says, is to do the homework first. Make a hard assessment of farm needs and how those needs might change in the future. Make certain flexibility and efficiency are part of the design process.