These plastic bags provide handy in-field storage to keep the combines rolling, but they have their quirks. Here’s my first-hand account of putting grain in 12,000-bushel tubes

The John Deere 9600 combines groaned as we chewed through the thick swaths, but Loren Koch of Willowmarsh Farms at Jarvie, Alta., was smiling. He had lots to smile about. It was a bountiful crop, and he wouldn’t have any worries about bin space.

Loren invested in a Renn grain bagger from Renn Mill Center in Lacombe, Alta., and stored much of his wheat crop in bags this year. His neighbour, James Jackson, also purchased one. I had the opportunity, as one of Loren’s combine operators, to see first hand how the grain bagger works.

As I watched the bags fill, and held long discussions with Loren on the combine radios, I began to see the advantages of the system.

A 10-foot-diameter bag costs around $800 and holds up to 12,000 bushels of wheat in a long tube. That works out to about 6 a bushel. You can store bags in the garage until you need them. Be sure to order enough ahead, there could be a shortage by end of harvest.

Some of Loren’s land is 20 km from his bins. By setting up the grain bag at the edge of the field, Mark Feitsma, the grain cart operator, was able to empty the two combines and fill the bag on his own. Besides paying less for grain storage, Loren also saved many days of wages for two truckers that are hard to source that time of year. Bagging on the field eases stress, too. “I’m always so worried about these guys on the roads late at night,” Loren says.

He especially likes the bags for his rented land as it saves him the financial risk of setting up expensive grain bins and possibly losing the land later. The grain bagger with a conveyer costs $27,000 and the extractor to take out the grain costs $52,000, as quoted from Pentagon Farm Service in Westlock, Alta. Loren is sharing the cost and use of the extractor with James Jackson.

The 10-foot diameter system has a 16-fill auger, which had no trouble keeping up to the two combines, even with a 70-bushel per acre wheat crop.

Loren filled six bags this year with 65,000 to 70,000 bushels in total. Storage space rental, at 15 a bushel, would cost him $9,750 for 65,000 bushels. The bags cost him $4,800, leaving him $4,950 towards depreciation of the machinery. It would take him over 10 years to capture cost of rent. Loren says that filling more bags would make the equation look better. But he’s also saving himself the cleaning out of between 10 and 20 bin bottoms. (A new steel bin with aeration, assembled with hopper bottom, costs about $27,000, same as the extractor.)

“A real advantage is the ability to bag it tough, and not worry about it because it’s a completely sealed bag,” says Loren. There should be no spoilage and no bugs because the sealed bag cuts off all supply of oxygen. “You have a real problem if you are harvesting at high temperatures and have bugs to boot.” The sealed grain bag takes care of that.

Jim Rakai, sales representative for Renn Mill Center, was on hand to help us slide the grain bag onto the bagger for the first time. It is important to do it right so there won’t be any leakage, and so the bag will fill evenly. The first time we did it ourselves, it took the three of us an hour. That time went down with practice, but it does take awhile and it helps to have at least two, better three, people on hand to help.

The bag is heavy and unwieldy to place around the bagger. We sealed the bag by rolling the end around a two by four, then screwing another two by four on top.

Both the Jackson and Koch farms use GPS when seeding. They set the bag up along a perfectly-straight GPS-guided seed row so it would fill straight. This is important later on when extracting the grain.

As Rakai said, “It is strongly recommended that you bag on level ground. If you’re not religiously watching that brake on rolling ground, you’ll have lots of fun.” This is because the weight of the grain pushes the bagger ahead, and the bagger pushes against the tractor. To help regulate the pressure, there is a brake on the bagger. If the grain pushes too hard, there is leakage in the front of the bagger, which we had some problems with. If it doesn’t push enough, the bag won’t fill right.

We did the first fill with about 100 bushels of wheat. By only filling a small amount, we avoided a problem that the Jacksons had. We got a good “bump” of grain on the

A Grain Bagger In Action

end, which covered the seal and sat on top of it. This takes the pressure off the seal. Jacksons had left the seal exposed, and the pressure of the fill broke the seal open.

We had our own little mishap, though. The tractor needs to be in neutral while bagging so the pressure of the fill can push the tractor forward. The new JD tractor we were using goes into park when it is shut off, and Mark didn’t realize that. As he was emptying his first full grain cart, he suddenly saw grain flowing out of a break in the bag behind him.

It wasn’t until the next day that we finally heard Mark say on the radio, “once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty neat.” That was after they had managed the problem of holes in the top of the bag. It seems you need to shut off the bagger auger while there is still some grain around it, or the hot auger bearing will burn a hole in your plastic. Well, that’s what the special tape is for that Renn provides with the bags!

THE PROBLEM OF HOLES

The biggest disadvantage of the bags was brought home to us one day when the cows got out. The boys weren’t careful enough when sealing off the end of the bag (it was probably dark and late), and the cows got wind of some free feed. They stomped a few holes in the end. It was nothing major, but even a careful cleanup will attract wildlife. Several bags have holes from the claws of coyote paws trying to reach mice munching on leaked grain during fill. The seepage then attracted deer.

“You have to go out once a week with a roll of tape in your hand, on a sunny day so the tape will stick, and patch holes,” says James. He says wildlife damage is the biggest issue with the grain bags at this point. Important is to place the bags away from the bush, water and prevalent deer paths.

GETTING THE GRAIN OUT

Loren plans to get the grain out of the bags as soon as possible. Not just because of wildlife damage, but also to avoid having to plow snow

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