Buying a Grain Bin: A Comprehensive Guide for Buyers
Grain storage in grain bins has been proven throughout history to be one of the most profitable investments you can buy for your farm. I mean think about it, what else can you buy that will often pay for itself in 5 years or less and will last for 50+ years with minimal maintenance? Thats right, the good old fashion grain bin can no doubt make your operation more profitable and efficient.
If you are new to grain bins or this is your first time looking at purchasing one it can be a confusing process. It is our intent to give a quick overview of some of the decisions and choices you will have to make.
What are you using the grain bin for?
There are many different uses for grain bins, but the most common options can be broken down into these categories:
1) Dry Storage Bins– These grain bins are used to store cool, dry grain. Typically for longer term storage such as several months up to a year plus after harvest to capture higher crop prices or deliver/sell your grain when the timing is right for your operation. (instead of having to haul it all to the grain elevator at harvest when everyone else is and waiting in long lines when you are already short on time harvesting) Dry storage bins are often the biggest bins on a facility and come in many different sizes all the way up to 2 Million bushels in one grain bin!!
2) Wet Bins– This term refers to a grain bin that is going to store wet grain temporarily until it is dried.
3) Cooling Bins- Cooling bins are used after a grain dryer that is dumping hot grain. These bins are designed with significantly more aeration to be able to remove the remaining heat and moisture so the grain is safe to store.
4) Drying Bins or In-Bin Drying Systems- These grain bins have additional equipment in them to actually dry your crop down to a safe storage moisture. Most often there will be equipment such as stirring machines and heaters. However, some drying bins are “natural air drying” and try to dry the grain with high CFM’s of air.
5) Load Out Bins- These tanks are really only used on facility that have other grain bins, especially dry bins for long term storage. The load out bin would be a tank that grain is transferred to and then offers a system that is quick to load out into a truck for hauling grain from the site.
We certainly know there are many more types of uses for grain bins, but these are the most common. There is a lot to talk about with each of these above, but we will wait on that for now.
How big of a grain bin do you need?
A general rule of thumb is that as the grain bin gets bigger or has more bushel capacity, the cost per bushel gets better and better. For example, let’s say the going price for a dry storage grain bin (flat bottom) turn-key completely erected and installed was $2.50 per bushel for a 60,000 bushel bin. A 30,000 bushel bin might be more like $3.50/ bushel and a 10,000 bushel bin might be $4.50/per bushel. This concept will remain true regardless of what type of grain bin (flat bottom, hopper bin, etc.) or your use of the grain bin (wet, dry cooling, etc.)
So knowing this we can tell you that with over 55 years of experience selling grain bins, we cannot remember one time someone came to us and said “we wish we would have built a smaller bin”. However, almost all of our customers continue to keep building more and more bins.
But how big do you realy need? Well for dry storage we would say build it is big as you can afford. And if you can swing it, plan for the inevitable yearly yield improvements with genetics and technology. For example, if you want to store your entire crop of corn that is 50,000 bushels now, it is reasonable to look at maybe going a little bigger to a 60,000 bushel bin. Historically speaking, nothing gets any cheaper and what you pay for that storage now will be cheaper than 5 years from now!
Sizing of wet bins is often dependent on the size of your dryer as well as your farming and combining speeds. We see a lot of people wanting to have a minimum of 12 hours of wet grain storage in front of their dryer. So if you have a dryer that does 500BPH x 12 you would be looking at 6,000 Bushel wet bin. We are certainly seeing a trend in the last few years of operators going to really big wet bins to allow for weather delays or harvesting issues and sizing their dryers accordingly so the dryer is always running……getting maximum efficiency.
For drying bins, most often you will be looking at 30,000 bushel bins or less due to the limits of the in-bin drying equipment and abilities of fans to push through the grain and dry effectively.
Also, there will be other factors that play into the sizing of the bin. There may be space restrictions on the site that only allow so big of a diameter. You may have existing grain handling equipment like an auger that can only reach so high, or you may have poor soil that will not support really tall bins, etc.
Not All Grain Storage Options Are Made the Same
There are two primary types of grain bins; flat bottom bins and hopper bottom bins. The type you need will largely be based on what you are using the bin for and also type of product or grain.
Flat Bottom Bins
Flat bottom bins are the most common and well known grain bins. In fact, the good old fashion grain bin was built in the early 1900’s by Butler MFG and the overall basic design with circular corrugated steel walls and a pitched metal roof really hasn’t changed much.
This type of grain bin is typically going to be substantially cheaper than a hopper bin. They are a superior choice for long-term storage needs because you can design them with an aeration system that will be able to maintain the temperature and moisture of the grain. Most common you will see a full floor aeration system in these type of bins. Flat bottom bins can be built in size ranges from a couple thousand bushels up to 2 million plus bushels.
The basic flat bottom grain bin is also commonly used in wet bin applications. Although most people would prefer a hopper bin for a wet tank, the cost is often prohibitive so people build flat bottom bins. With the advancements in grain bins powersweeps in the recent years as well as wet bins getting larger and larger…..the flat bottom bin will continue to be a solid choice for a wet bin. Also, grain systems are often designed so the wet bin can be filled with dry grain for long term storage at the end of the year. With a flat bottom bin with good aeration and a full floor system, this win will work great for long term storage.
Lastly, if you are looking for a drying grain bin you will also be looking at a flat bottom grain bin….but you will just have to invest in additional equipment to convert it to a drying bin.
Hopper Bottom Bin
Corrugated Hopper bins are often desired for the advantages they offer for unloading. The grain from the bin can be discharged right out the bottom into another grain handling piece of equipment and the bin will have full gravity clean out. Hopper bins are desired in applications such as wet holding bins for this reason. Also, hopper bottom bins are often used for seed storage or specialty crops that full cleanout is necessary.
The price tag on hopper bins is a deterring factor for many purchasers. Depending on the size of the bin, the hopper bins can often be double or triple the cost of a flat bottom bin. (also depending on accessories, etc.)
One challenge with hopper bottom bins is there are no great methods for aeration that is sufficient for long term storage. Another challenge is that hopper bins get really expensive as they get bigger….and currently the biggest corrugated hopper bins in the industry are around 100,000 bushels.
Hopper bottom bins are often used for other products outside of easy flowing whole grains. They are very popular for fertilzer, DDG’s, feed products, etc. Depending on the products and use, these hopper bins may need to be “all welded” or “smooth wall” hopper tanks that provide better flow and ability to clean the product out.
This is just the basics, there is so much more!
This is a quick summary of the basics of grain bins. We look forward to writing more and going indepth on some of the other decisions that come with this investment.
To take the strain off of potentially making the wrong choice, work with Agri-Systems, Inc., a third-generation company that specializes in designing and constructing grain storage facilities to do it for you.