Midway through this year’s harvest, we began to realize that we were likely going to run out of storage space before the terminal called in the canola we had under contract. There wasn’t time to buy a “real” bin and move it in. Since we don’t have a grain bagger, we talked to the neighbours about renting theirs to get us by, but that plan got complicated quickly when we found out the local dealerships were all out of grain bags, and we’d have to wait a few days while they shipped some in. (Apologies to farmers in areas where harvest still isn’t finished in mid-October, but we weren’t the only farmers in the southeast having storage issues in early September.)
Rather than just piling the rest of the durum straight on the ground, we went with another option: building a “temporary” bin. There are a few places where you can buy packages to take home and assemble yourself. The packages we bought gave us enough metal sheets to build two 20-gauge steel circles, 45 feet in diameter, each designed to hold 9,600 bushels of grain. They came in a kit that included a tarp and all of the bolts, nuts and steel posts we’d need to assemble the whole thing in a few hours. It was exactly like shopping at IKEA, with simpler directions and no Swedish meatballs.
Getting it together
Six of us set up the first bin in about four hours. By the second bin, we had it down to about three and a half. Other than our 11-year-old, most of this crew was a bit, well, older than average. Four 20-year-olds could probably make better time. Especially if they put together more than one, and knew what they were doing.
Wind was a problem: the metal sheets wanted to take off in the wind before we could get them bolted together. It got easier when someone thought to pull the semi up in front and block the worst of the gusts.
Getting the steel posts into the ground wasn’t that much fun either. We managed to use the skid steer to force a couple of them into the ground, but in areas where the ground underneath was a little firmer, we were reduced to pounding them in by hand.
Unlike a kid’s Lego set, which almost always comes with a handful of extra pieces just in case something goes wrong, this kit came within two or three bolts of having the exact number of nuts and bolts we’d need. There was no room to drop one on the ground or leave a few rattling around in your pocket to put through the washing machine.
Filling it up
I assumed filling the temporary bin would be the easiest part of the process — just put the auger on top and dump in the grain. But it turned out to be a little more complicated than that. If you want to fill the rings up to the very top and cram in the full 9,600 bushels, you have to be very accurate if you don’t want to run grain over one side and leave the deer an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s not as easy as you might think to make sure that auger is exactly in the middle of the circle.
Securing the load
The most difficult part of the process was putting the tarp on to cover the final pyramid of grain. I don’t have a great photo of this because I was busy holding down one side of the tarp. The trick was to pull the tarp over the top without sending the perfect pyramid down over the side. Working with a weird-shaped tarp was one part of the challenge. The other part was that, with two people out in the wind, one on each side of the circle, it was really hard to communicate to make sure they were both pulling the tarp in the same direction at the same time.
Once we got the tarp on top of the pile, straps all around the circle easily attached to hooks on the side of the metal sheets.
Waiting for the call
Now we have two of these set up on our farm. They’re both full of durum, waiting until the terminal calls in our contract and we can clear them out.
If you’re wondering about the black dot you can see on the front panel, that dot marks the “front” panel — the one that can most easily be removed to auger out the grain. The other metal sheets were layered, inside the ring on one end, outside the ring on the other. This last sheet is bolted on the outside on both ends, so it can be pulled right out of the circle with less inconvenience.
Good or bad
For us, temporary storage is a last resort. Ideally, we would have had more “regular” bin space in time for harvest. Is this the second-best solution? We don’t have personal experience with grain bags, so it’s hard to compare. It does seem to be a better solution than piling grain up on the ground. We are especially grateful that we didn’t choose the ground-pile option this fall — it rained a little bit almost every day for three weeks after we strapped down the tarp.
There are a few companies selling components for temporary bins. Meridian Manufacturing in Regina and Inland Plastics in Lethbridge both sell several options. There are bigger and small circles, or kits that substitute sheets of plywood for the galvanized steel.
We bought our kit from Willwood Industries in Kronau, Sask. All-in, including the tarp and the taxes, the price for each bin was in the neighbourhood of $5,000. Once we’ve hauled out the grain, we can disassemble the rings and put the kit in the back of the shed for the next time we have a last-minute storage problem.