Grain bags have increased in popularity over the last few years. Grain bags are a relatively inexpensive temporary storage option that offer a number of benefits. One downside, however, is what to do with the bag once it is unloaded. There’s almost 300 pound of agricultural plastic film in one bag. Add to that some grain left behind and each bag adds up to a lot of waste.
This problem was not lost on the Brown brothers, Jason, Jeff, Mike and Brady. They farm grain, pulses and oilseeds with their father at Milestone, Saskatchewan. “We had the same problem as every farmer using grain bags — how do we dispose of them?” says Brady Brown. “They blow around if you don’t get them gathered up. Burning them is not a good idea at all. So we started looking for another way to deal with them.”
The Brown brothers also have a winter business in Brown Bros. Welding and Fabrication. So, they took their problem with grain bag disposal into the shop in the winter. “We found an irrigation plastic roller, a lighter, smallish roller and used that as a guide to design and fabricate what eventually became our grain bag roller.” The Brown brothers knew they needed a sturdy roller that could stand up to the work of rolling grain bags. They also incorporated a tying mechanism using baler twine so the operation to roll and tie the used bags was completed in one operation.
“We mounted the grain bag roller on a trailer,” says Brown. “We haul it to where we are unloading bags and roll them right away. The bags are hauled in right on the trailer and we take care of disposal when we have time. A 250 to 400 pound plastic bale is not going to blow away anywhere until we decide to move it.”
The Brown brothers posted a video on Youtube.com showing the grain bag roller in operation, and at their website, brownbroswelding.com, has pictures of the roller, and you can see the skid steer mounted option for the grain bag roller. “There is the option to mount the roller for operation from a skid steer,” says Brown. “However, our own experience is that most guys favour the trailer-mounted option as it makes transporting the rolled bags easier.”
The Brown brothers are selling grain bag rollers in all three Prairie provinces. They have also found a market in the oil industry, rolling frack pond liners. Frack pond liners are about three times the thickness of grain bags so the Brown brothers built an even heavier duty roller for that application.
Disposing of grain bags
Where do farmers dispose of used grain bags? They could be hauled to the landfill but that is becoming more difficult. They could be buried on the farm. Burning is illegal. Highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are released into the environment when plastics are burned at low temperatures such as seen in a burn barrel. A better solution was needed.
The Provincial Council of Agriculture, Development and Diversification Boards in Saskatchewan, now known as SimplyAg Solutions Inc., is a nonprofit whose mandate is to provide education, programming and information to the Saskatchewan agriculture industry. They have numerous partners, including government. Grain bag recycling in the province is one of their projects.
“We piloted the project in 2011,” says Travis Quirk, ag plastics co-ordinator at SimplyAg Solutions Inc. “Six grain bag rollers were purchased from Brown Bros. Welding and Fabrication and set up at six locations to compact the grain bags and provide a point from which to collect bags and bring them to a recycling depot. We also collected twine at this locations.”
The project has grown in scope and volume since the 2011 pilot. Now, silage plastic and net wrap have been added for recycling. “From the start of the pilot up until the end of March 2014 we collected 0.5 million pounds of plastic grain bags,” says Quick. “From April 2014 to date, we have collected two million pounds. Not only are more people participating in the program, those farmers have more to recycle.”
Recycled plastic grain bags are a very versatile plastic. “A low density polyethylene plastic that is relatively clean is pretty desirable,” says Quick. “It’s recycled into things like household garbage bags and plastic lumber.”
The recycled market is not yet enough to sustain the program although the demand is there, so it still receives funding from various sources including Growing Forward. For more information on the recycling program and to sign up for various events go to simplyag.ca or contact Travis Quirk at 1-866-298-7222.
Grain bag recycling programs are available in Alberta administered by counties. In Manitoba, cleanFARMS, another nonprofit industry stewardship organization, is conducting recycling pilots. “We are receiving funding from Green Manitoba,” says Shane Hedderson, project manager at cleanFarms. “They are a special operating agency of the government in Manitoba and their mandate is to provide programs to reduce waste. The work we are doing will reduce plastic waste on farm.” Information on programming for 2015 will be available on cleanFarm’s website in the New Year. “We are planning to have two blitz-style collections in spring and fall,” says Hedderson. “There will be six sites across the province. From these pilot programs we hope to iron out the logistics of getting the plastics from the farm to the collection point and shipped on into the recycling market.”