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Bin There, Done That

Jeff Tkachyk wanted more than just a grain bin. So he put up a canvas-covered steel-frame shed last summer

to hold grain and whatever else he might want to store after the grain is cleaned out. The shed is 60 by 140 feet and holds 60,000 to 70,000 bushels — or more if he heightens the inside wall.

Tkachyk had 50,000 bushels of last year’s oats in the shed as of early May, but he still had enough extra space at one end to shelter two tractors and a sprayer over the winter.

“That’s why I built the shed,” he says. “All told, it was 25 to 30 per cent cheaper than the equivalent capacity of steel bins, and when I don’t have grain in it, I can use it for other purposes.”

Tkachyk farms between Elm Creek and Fannystelle, Man., about 30 km southwest of Winnipeg. Proximity to the city provides other non-farm opportunities for a large shed. If he can empty it out before winter, he could rent the space to store campers or boats for city folks during the winter.

Tkachyk bought the shed kit from Winkler Canvas. The quote to put it up was $20,000. That was too much, he thought, so he arranged a crew of five helpers and did it himself. It took a month from start to finish, with many delays. “You can’t put up the canvas when it’s windy,” he says. And some heavy rains made for a muddy job site. Tkachyk rented a self-propelled scissor-lift to put up the roof, and got the thing stuck in a clay muck-hole in the middle of the shed. Total time on the job was probably two weeks per employee at 40 hours a week. Inexperience added a lot of time, Tkachyk says.

The sides are eight-inch square posts 16 feet long. They are stuck eight feet into the ground to create a sturdy support for the steel truss arches. Tkachyk built four-foot wooden walls on the inside of the posts to hold back the grain. The shed also has canvas outside walls that cover the whole eight feet.

$9 PER SQUARE FOOT FOR MATERIALS

Bob Murdoch, Manitoba sales rep for Winkler Canvas, says the list price for their shed kits is $8 to $9 per square foot, including steel, canvas and wood. Installed, the price is $11 or so per square foot. List price for Tkachyk’s materials, therefore, would be 60 by 140 by $9 for a total of $75,600. This doesn’t account for any negotiating.

You’ll find other companies that offer these kits, including Cover-All in Saskatoon and Pavilion in St. Albert, Alta. Sheds come in many sizes. Winkler Canvas’s biggest truss arch style, like Tkachyk’s, is 130 feet wide. You can build it as long as you want.

A concrete floor will double the price of a shed. As an example, Kindersley Concrete Products in Kindersley, Sask., charges $11.50 per square foot, including rebar and labour, for a concrete pad five inches thick. Tkachyk has a dirt floor in his shed.

SHEDS VERSUS BINS

A 73,000-bushel Westeel steel bin, 48 feet wide with a 44-foot sidewall, is just under $70,000 for the steel only. Steel for a 50,000-bushel bin, the same width but shorter height, is around $47,000. At first glance, the materials price for a very large bin compares quite closely to a large shed with the same grain capacity. The thing is, most farms would prefer five smaller steel bins instead of one very large one. And that’s when the price per bushel starts to rise quite a bit for steel bins.

When asked what the benefits were for a steel bin over the tarp shed, Curtis Starkell, a Westeel sales rep, says aeration is easier in a steel bin, especially with the option for full-floor screens. So is unloading. “You can empty the whole bin with a centre sump,” he says. A steel bin will also last for generations. While Tkachyk has seen canvas sheds still in good shape after 20 years, it’s hard to imagine canvas has the durability of galvanized steel.

The question comes back to this: Where would you want to keep 50,000 bushels of canola, for example, with a value close to half a million dollars? With a big pile of grain in a shed, conditioning and aeration of that grain is a concern, Starkell says. Does he have anything good to say about sheds? “Sheds are great for temporary storage.”

FILLING SHEDS IS THE EASY PART

Steel arches leave lots of clearance inside to extend the auger into the middle of the shed and lift the spout right up near the roof line. With big doors at both ends, you have lots of room to get the truck inside and lots of air movement for ventilation. And with the translucent canvas, the space is bright.

These factors make canvas sheds more convenient than wooden sheds with rafters. Tkachyk put grain in one of the farm’s wood-framed sheds last year and had to cut a hole in the roof to stick the auger spout through. That shed was also a lot darker than the canvas shed and had smaller doors, making unloading harder, he says.

Emptying is where all sheds become a lot less convenient than a bin. When it comes time to move his oats, Tkachyk will stick an auger and bin sweep in the end and unload that way. He’ll use a grain vac for final cleanup. You can also stick an auger in the sides when you roll up the canvas wall. This is a benefit if you’ve got more than one crop or grade stored inside and you want to take the middle pile out first.

This brings us to another challenge with sheds. With such a large storage space, farmers will want the flexibility to divide it up to store different grades or crops. Bob Murdoch says stacked concrete blocks work well, both as dividers and to block the doors if you fill the shed right up.

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