Beyond financials and function, when deciding to invest in a grain-handling system, there are three main considerations — access to 3-phase power, a Class A road and natural gas, says Scott Decker of Peck, Mich. Before he started to inquire about buying a new system, he went to work to address all three.
Scott and his father, Dave, each farm a little more than 600 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and sugarbeets, for a total of about 1,300 acres.
For four years, they had talked about, researched and asked questions while visiting other farm operations. Scott had a pretty good idea of what they wanted, but what needed to be done to make it happen?
He first addressed the 3-phase power need. “We wanted to have this setup right next to my home operation,” Scott says. “But it was going to take $175,000 to run 3-phase lines here, so we opted for a bare field I owned a half-mile away with 3-phase at the road,” he says.
With this alternative site, the main access is from a secondary road, which is unusable during the spring frost restrictions. However, by putting in another driveway to a side road that abuts the property, he can access the Class A road a mile away.
The third obstacle wasn’t easily solved, but rather overcome. “There’s natural gas available less than a half-mile away, but it would cost $150,000 to run it here,” Scott explains. “We opted for propone for now and will maybe consider that in the future."
While they farm separately, Scott and Dave were both using a 24-foot, in-bin dryer bought in 1992 after an extremely wet corn year.
It served them fairly well, but when Scott started farming and bought his first 160 acres on a land contract in 1998 (as a sophomore in high school), its capacity was beginning to be strained, especially as more acres were added.
“It was a great system for 300 acres, but a poor system for 1,300 acres,” Dave says. “It was very labor intensive. Scott was running the dryer around the clock, which meant every three hours he had to return, dump it, refill it. He was getting no sleep, and I was getting no sleep because there was no storage underneath the dryer. So, I had to haul out three loads every day to make room.”
It would take weeks for them to finish corn. “Even my mom was helping,” says Scott, a fifth-generation farmer. “We needed a system to get it done faster with less people because, eventually, I'm going to be doing this by myself for a while.” Scott notes that his dad is 71 years old, and his sons are 2 and 4.
The speed of unloading was a big deal. “I wanted him to be able to combine by himself if I’m gone," Dave adds. "He could unload in 10 minutes and be back in the field."
Another "must" was having an automatic, self-feed continuous drying system with a fair amount of wet storage.
In November 2018, Scott took advantage of a winter discount to buy an entirely new GSI system from Craig “Doc” Potts and his son Jesse at Michigan Agri-Systems out of Pinconning.
By December, Scott and Dave were doing massive amounts of site work, including removing 18 inches of topsoil and raising it up over 4 feet for a total of more than 5.5 feet of sand.
It took 200 semi loads of sand, which was then leveled and packed after each load. It settled through the winter before cement work started. “From the road, it looks like we’re only slightly built up because we took the topsoil and sloped it out so it doesn't look out of place,” Scott says.
Much of the electrical work also was done before the cement. “Invest in a good electrician; they’re worth it,” Scott advises. “We got high quality and excellent workmanship — everything is rigid.”
The bins, which are built from the top down and lifted as the sides are erected, were started May 31 and took less than a month to complete. The entire project was completed in October.
The high-capacity, high-efficiency GSI system includes:
- Two new dry storage grain bins. One is a 48-foot-diameter bin with a 55,000-bushel capacity. The other is a 36-foot-diameter bin with a 30,000-bushel capacity.
- A 30-foot-diameter TopDry unit, which dries grain in a top compartment and then drops the grain into a storage bin below. A smaller cooling-aeration fan captures heat from the previously dried grain and pushes it upward to help dry the next load.
- An 18-foot-diameter, 7,300-bushel overhead tank that stores wet grain and also is used for load-out of dried grain for transport.
- A 105-foot bucket elevator that can move grain at the rate of 8,000 bushels per hour.
- A receiving pit for incoming grain from the field.
- A power sweep, which is a sweep auger that runs around the inside of the bin.
Unlike many older systems that take on water, the leg is not in a pit with a sump pump. “The receiving conveyor has to dump right into the leg at a certain height,” Jesse Potts says. “Many systems dropped the leg into a concrete hole to achieve that. This system, instead, keeps the leg high, and everything is built around it. Water drains away from it naturally through a trench to the field.”
These systems are now offering more safety features, Potts says. “The power sweep allows for zero entry — you don’t have to go in to take in an auger; you just pull a lever from outside the bin," he says.
Like Scott’s system, ladders can now be replaced with stairs and handrails.
With the capacity to process and hold the grain, the Deckers added more corn acreage this year. “Even with more acres, we were done with corn harvest in a week this year,” Scott says. “Last year, it was 10 days. Before this system, it would take three weeks or more. And it gives you high-quality corn.”
On the computer, Scott logs every load that comes in with moisture, time, date, field, truck and approximate bushels. Dryer activity is sent straight to his computer screens, which he also can access from his phone.
“So, if it shuts down, it will send me a text message, and I can see what it's doing,” he explains.
Just as everything was thought out before construction, the system also is designed to be built out. “I saved a spot over by the grain leg for what might be a 100,000-bushel bin in the future,” Scott says. “There's plenty of room for expansion in every direction. We could triple in size.”
What would he do differently? “I would make my bottom of my overhead storage bigger, so I could load out dry grain faster,” Scott says. “It's a 12-inch now; it needs to be a 14 or 16. It’s not something easily changed, but it can be done.”
Balancing cost versus benefit depends on your justification and financial position.
“It depends on the amount of acres, how quickly you want to get done and a lot of different variables,” Scott says. “Maybe it’s worth it because I got my crops off in a timely manner and got it in the bin before bad weather came, or I could get more work done so I could farm more acres or whatever it is, you got to take it all into consideration. What works for you might not work for your neighbor.”