Dakota Farmer

Building for the future

Advice led young farmer to expand and modernize grain handling system.

Lon Tonneson, Editor, Dakota Farmer

September 17, 2019

5 Min Read
Gregg Jensen near bin storage
THINKING AHEAD: Gregg Jensen invested in bigger bins and a bucket elevator to improve his harvest efficiency and, in the long run, save money. Lon Tonneson

In hindsight, Gregg Jensen probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to put up another bin. The 34-year-old Viborg, S.D., farmer only got about 30% of his corn and soybeans planted this year. Flooding in March followed by frequent rains through June kept him and a lot of other farmers in his area out of their fields. He certainly won’t need the additional grain storage space this year.

But Jensen isn’t discouraged. He says he didn’t make the wrong decision. “I didn’t build it for one year, or even five years,” he says. “This is for 20 to 30 years.”

Jensen has put up two new grain bins recently. One holds 62,000 bushels and another holds 80,000 bushels. In the latest project, he also installed a drive-over dump pit and a bucket elevator. He has plans to add a dryer, more bins and a control shed in the future.

drive-over dump pit with jump augers

EASY UNLOAD: The new grain facility includes a drive-over dump pit with jump augers to the bucket elevator.

Summit Contracting of Platte and Pierre, S.D. — one of the largest GSI dealers in South Dakota — designed the latest phase of the project so the system works for Jensen now and will be easy and cost-effective to expand in the future.

“My 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son may one day be the one adding the last bins to this project,” Jensen says.

Key changes Summit recommends to handle future expansion include increasing the height of the bucket elevator and beefing up the elevator’s foundation so the elevator can reach the dryer and four to six more bins. Summit also made sure that there was enough room between the bins, bucket elevator and the dump pit for a dryer and control shed.

How it will pay

Jensen says the new bins and grain handling equipment will likely pay dividends in at least two ways:

Harvest efficiency. They won’t have to truck grain as far during harvest and they won’t have to wait in line at an elevator to unload. As a result, Jensen figures they won’t need a second combine or another truck to cover all the ground they currently farm.

A bonus is that Jensen and the retired farmers who help him with the harvest should be able work longer hours when necessary because unloading trucks and filling bins will be more automated. They won’t have to physically push around heavy augers anymore.

Marketing opportunities. Jensen will now have the capacity to store about 40% of the grain that he normally produces and take advantage of the carry in the market. He used to be able to hold only 25% of the crop on the farm. Many years, storing grain has paid off, he says.

Good advice

Jensen decided to put up a grain system after doing some research. “I went around and asked successful farmers, ‘If you could go back 25, 30, 40 years, what would you invest in?’” he says.

Their top answer was not a surprise — land.

More land wasn’t in the cards for Jensen. He and his wife, Holly, own some of their ground and farm her mother’s land. They have about as much land as they can handle with their equipment lineup and labor.

Drain tile was No. 2, but Jensen had already tiled some of their ground. He had been a manager for Prinsco, a tile company, for several years before he started farming fulltime.

No. 3 was grain handling equipment and bins. Many farmers he talked to says they wished they had invested earlier in infrastructure that would have made the grain operation more efficient. You must be operating at max efficiency on the land you are currently farming before you can take on more land, they told him.

bucket elevator towers over the grain bins

MORE REACH: The bucket elevator towers over the grain bins. It is taller than normal so it can reach additional bins that Jensen hopes to add to the site over next 20 to 30 years.

Jensen qualified for a low-interest Farm Service Agency loan to finance the project. He spent a lot of time with his banker going over how the payments would affect his cash flow and balance sheet. They did a lot of what-if calculations. “If my banker had any misgivings, I wasn’t going to do it,” Jensen says.

Stress in perspective

Experiencing a crop failure after making any big capital investment can be stressful, especially for a beginning farmer or rancher. But Jensen has a different idea about what is stressful.

Stress, he says, is having his father-in-law and farming partner — Jim Holm — suddenly get sick. Cancer was the diagnosis. Jensen moved into Holm’s home and helped his wife, Sheila, care for him in the last year of his life.

“He was a friend and mentor, a great farmer,” Jensen says, who worked for Holm before he passed. “I thought I’d be able farm 10 to 15 more years with him. I had a lot to learn.”

Stress, Jensen says, is having two children born premature and facing serious health problems.

One day he had to perform CPR on their 1-month-old daughter in the pickup as his wife raced to get her to the hospital in time to save her life.

“Sure, this is disappointing,” he says, waving at the unplanted fields around the bin site, but it isn’t anything like the life-and-death situations that they have experienced.

Jensen tried to do his homework on the bin project. He planned for the long term and figured out ways to best manage the additional risk. Between crop insurance and prevented plant payments this year, “we will be able to keep the lights on and the family fed. We will be all right,” he says. “That is what’s important.”

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