Many Western Canadian producers are turning to grain bags either as a backup to bin storage or a logistical solution during the busy harvest season.
According to Dave Nelson, senior vice-president of sales for Loftness, there are a host of reasons why producers might want to consider grain bagging.
“When all of the bins on a farm reach capacity, grain bags offer the ability to add a virtually unlimited amount of storage,” he says. A variety of loading options helps make grain bagging equipment adaptable to any farming operation, he adds, while unloading can be done on producers’ terms after harvest, “when it is more convenient, more labour is available, and trucking rates are more reasonable.”
Today’s loading equipment ensures bags can be filled at rates up to 30,000 bushels per hour, says Nelson, which means there are no interruptions during harvest.
But as with any farm technology, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it. Here are three tips to keep in mind if you choose to bag grain this harvest.
1. Bag dry grain
According to Joy Agnew, who manages agricultural research services at the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI), grain bags are a great option, and can offer savings in terms of logistics during the busy harvest system.
“But they are meant for short term,” she says, “and once the grain is in the bag there’s no opportunity for management.”
Recently, some grain bag aeration products have come to market, but Agnew cautions that they haven’t been extensively evaluated and it isn’t known whether producers can get the same level of aeration control in bags as in bins with traditional aeration systems.
There’s always a risk of spoilage when producers use bags, especially if grain is exposed to temperature and moisture if bags are not sealed correctly.
“Grain going into the bags should be cool and dry,” says Agnew.
2. Check bags regularly
According to Agnew, another risk of grain bags is that they are exposed to the elements — and to wild animals and birds. Producers should get out and check bags for incisions regularly, and at least weekly in areas with significant wildlife pressure, she says.
“Usually it’s not that big, and producers avoid spoilage by mending and covering holes. But if there’s a large enough incision the whole bag has to be switched.
“I know one guy who was out there every three days with his kids covering holes last year,” she says.
Grain bags have to be managed — they can’t just be left in fields at the mercy of Mother Nature.
3. Know your recycling options
Once bags are emptied, they can’t be reused. Producers use 15,000 to 20,000 bags annually in Saskatchewan alone. At 150 kg per 250-foot bag, that’s a lot of plastic to deal with.
The government of Saskatchewan officially launched a new grain bag recycling program this March. It’s managed by CleanFarms, which is also running a pilot project in Manitoba.
Barry Friesen, general manager at CleanFarms, says grain bags can be a headache for producers once they’re emptied. “It’s a massive piece of plastic,” he says. “Farmers have tried everything from landfilling the bags to burning them, but even burning them takes a lot of work.”
The Environmental Handling Fee, or cost of recycling the bags — about $40 — is now included in the up-front cost of grain bags, so producers don’t have to pay anything when they deliver the bags to a depot.
“I’ve been in the recycling business for 20 some years so getting these collection rates can take a while, but for something like grain bags, which are large and need to be dealt with almost as soon as they’re emptied, I anticipate 75 per cent plus will be collected in our first year,” Friesen predicts.
Grain bag collection businesses are also developing, such as EcoGenX, based in Canora, Sask., which offers bag rolling and pickup services.