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Seed, treat, repeat

With a new grain cart and a Storm seed treater, Sarah Weigum’s farm is ready for spring

Hopefully by the time you read this our grain cart is ready to go. Typically, farmers give their tractors, sprayers and seeding equipment a final tune up this time of year, and we’re doing that too; however, we also finished modifying a 1,000-bushel grain cart that will be pressed into service for seed distribution any day now.

We have been using a 400-bushel gravity wagon with load cells to tender seed to our customers for 15 years. My dad added the scale to the wagon himself, as well as an auger and treating system, and it has served Alect Seeds well. Many seed growers time their augers and then weigh at the scale. This system works, but it sometimes means more than one trip under the auger and over the scale to get the right amount of seed. The accuracy of the wagon saves us having to weigh twice and I believe has been valued by our customers. 

However, as my dad points out, farmers used to come for seed in single-axle trucks and now they come with super B-trains. It takes four fills and a lot of time to load out our bigger customers. Since last fall we’ve been discussing what piece of equipment would best serve our seed operation for the next era. The options were a larger gravity wagon or a grain cart. 

A 750-bushel gravity wagon was initially attractive because we are familiar with it and because gravity wagons are easier to clean out than the grain cart with the auger. A new gravity wagon would require modifications, including an auger and load cells, but my dad had experience from the previous wagon. The bigger challenge for us was modifying the axles to put bigger tires underneath. We have a very high water table in our yard and when the frost comes out of the ground, the loaded wagon probably sink up to its belly, so the solution was to put larger tires underneath. However, we talked to another farmer who had a 750-bushel gravity wagon that he used for feeding cattle and he complained that the large wagon was top heavy and tipsy. Higher tires combined with our uneven yard would probably only exacerbate the problem. 

Once we started looking inside the large wagons we saw that they had a lot more cross bracing and ledges where grain could get caught than our small wagon. We looked inside a few 1,000-bushel grain carts, and besides the auger, they actually didn’t have a lot more places to trap grain than the largest wagons. The pros of the cart: it comes with big tires, a scale (though still not legal for tender), and an auger (which we likely we won’t use much, but more on that later).

In the end, we settled on a Brandt 1020 cart because it looked the easiest to clean. The slide that covers the intake end of the auger goes completely outside the cart, rather than being sheathed inside more metal and Brandt capped the square tubing braces inside the cart with angle iron so they should shed grain. While we’ve never used a grain cart before in our harvest operation, we now have that option.

My dad estimates that the gravity wagon, even with the modifications would have cost only about 60 per cent of the cart, so we have a higher upfront cost. But, ever the strategist, my dad pointed out that a grain cart would be a lot easier to sell at an auction sale. Besides his potential auction, another principle that guides my dad’s decision making on the farm is making sure that everyone who needs to can operate the equipment. Since my mom and I load a lot of the seed, it’s been a family discussion about how to improve on the existing engineering. Because we climb in and out of the cart a lot to clean it out, we built a better ladder and put air lines into the cart so we can hook up to the compressor on the outside and just take the wand inside with us to blow the grain out the bottom.

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Our treat

We also added a Storm seed treater to our seed distribution system this year. My dad had built a treating system on our old wagon, but we needed something that would work with the new grain cart. The Storm treater, manufactured by Ag Growth International, is designed to take grain from a hoppered bin using a metered conveyor. It delivers the grain to a treatment application chamber where nozzles spray both sides of the curtain of grain. The treated grain then falls into a 40 foot by 10 inch auger which both mixes the seed so the treatment is evenly distributed and allows the treatment to dry on the grain before going into the truck. If our customers don’t want their seed treated it will go into their truck using the grain cart auger, but if they want the seed treated (as most do) we will position the hopper of the Storm treater under the sliding door at the bottom of the cart’s auger sump. 

To accommodate this new treater, we had to undertake our biggest modification on the grain cart: raising it up by 10 inches to make enough clearance under the bottom hatch for the treater hopper. I won’t go into the details, since these kind of projects fall into the “not my department” category on the farm. Suffice to say that plenty of iron, bolts, calls to the engineers and blue paint were required. The modification is reversible, should we wish to return the axle to its original position for harvest use. 

Looking at the Storm treater itself, there were a number of features that appealed to us. The treater has electronic controls where the user inputs the actual bushel weight of the grain being treated (not standard bushel weight) as well as the amount of treatment to be applied per unit of weight. The speed of the conveyor can be changed on the go and because of the cleats, the software knows how much grain is being delivered and adjusts the treatment rates accordingly. The software logs the chemical used and volume treated and can be used to reconcile inventory at the end of the day or the end of the treating season. 

One feature that we might not use a lot, but other farmers might find helpful is the “batch” setting which allows the user to set the machine to treat a specific amount of seed, whether it’s 20 bushels or 2,000 bushels. They say the metering is accurate to within +/- two per cent.

The Storm uses a peristaltic pump that can pull directly from bulk drums of treatment. These pumps are similar to the ones used in hospitals for administering fluids intravenously. These pumps push the treatment towards the nozzles, by squeezing the tube that contains the fluid, meaning there is never a messy diaphragm pump that can plug or needs cleaning. The peristaltic pump can also reverse, leaving the lines clear in between treating sessions if necessary. 

Something that at least one seed treatment company — Bayer CropSciences — is doing to make things a little easier on custom treatment applicators is accepting drum containers back without being rinsed. They will be returned to Bayer’s facilities and refilled. This sounds like a little thing, but represents a huge amount of rinsewater that farmers and small custom applicators will no longer have to worry about dealing with in an environmentally responsible way.

At $50,000 the Storm treater isn’t cheap, but it’s also about half the price of drum treaters which are harder to clean out and in some cases are less mobile, requiring the grain to be brought to a central treating location, rather than moving the treater from bin to bin. 

Is the Storm treater perfect? No. I know people in the seed applied technology industry who say diaphragm pumps and drum treaters are better applicators. There are big questions at stake about application efficacy and the ramifications of below dose application on some seeds. I may take up these issues in a future column, but for now, this is what we feel is the best solution available on the market, both for our seed operation and for our customers.

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Sarah Weigum

Sarah Weigum grows pedigreed seed and writes at Three Hills, Alta.

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