Nebraska grain cooperatives seek solution to grain storage problems

by Teresa Acklin
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   RON JURGENS had a perennial problem. The general manager of Agri Co-op, a grain cooperative in Holdrege, Nebraska, U.S., which owns several grain elevators in south central Nebraska, found that the volume of grain arriving at the company's Roseland facility was more than could be stored in the elevator. To compensate, the excess grain had to be temporarily piled on the ground.

   But exposure to the weather was causing excessive grain spoilage, and it was taking too much time to load grain from the ground piles.

   At first, the cooperative purchased vinyl covers to protect the grain on the ground. But the covers were expensive, hard to handle and required a negative air flow to hold them in place. A power outage during a storm would cause the tarps to flap and tear in the wind, exposing the grain once again to the elements.

   Agri Co-op needed an economical solution that would replace temporary storage and meet rail demands as well as the needs of local producers. “We needed a supporting, large-volume structure with workhouse capabilities to fit our current system,” Mr. Jurgens said.

   At the same time, Aurora Cooperative in Aurora, Nebraska, was experiencing similar problems — too much grain spoilage from grain piled on the ground and inadequate access to temporary piles of grain for fast railcar loadout. Harlan Schafer, vice-president of production and operations for Aurora Cooperative, said the company needed a solution that would provide them with “ready access to quality grain.”

   Chief Industries, Inc., a diversified manufacturer with corporate offices in Grand Island, Nebraska, through its Agri-Industrial Division in Kearney, Nebraska, teamed up with the two cooperatives and two local authorized Chief dealers to develop a cost-effective, reliable method of storing and loading grain. Along with Rich Lowe of Heartland Building Systems, also of Kearney, and Don Thorell of Thorell Sales, Loomis, Nebraska, Chief's engineers developed a large corrugated steel structure for each cooperative that will make loading and unloading easier, provide better grain handling, maintain commodity quality and yet be economical.

   “Agri Co-op was basically looking for a roof system to shield the commodity from the elements,” said Dee Swanson, sales manager of Chief's Agri-Industrial Division. “They also wanted to incorporate an aeration system to keep the grain in condition during storage. But most importantly, it had to be cost-effective and in the long run be more reasonable than the current vinyl cover solution.”

   The storage silos engineered and manufactured for Agri Co-op and Aurora Cooperative are the largest corrugated steel structures of their kind, according to Mr. Swanson. The Roseland structure has a base diameter of nearly 232 feet (6,960 centimeters), a sidewall height of 13 feet (390 cm), a roof peak of 80 feet (2,400 cm) and can hold up to 1.1 million bushels (30,250 tonnes) of grain. The Aurora facility has a base diameter of 247 feet (7,400 cm), an 85-foot (2,550 cm) roof peak and can hold 1.3 million bus (35,400 tonnes).

   Both structures were equipped with a Caldwell material handling system from Chief, consisting of leg and drag conveyors that handle from 10,000 bushels per hour to 15,000 bph, as well as Caldwell centrifugal fans and panel grate for aeration. Both storage structures also have railcar load-out capabilities.

   The structures can handle massive amounts of grain and ease loading and unloading chores, Mr. Swanson said. Loading and unloading can be started or stopped at any time, unlike when using vinyl covers.

   The new structures are expected to help with local volume, allowing another dump station to speed up the process during harvest. “It provided a very economical solution, with cost per bushels the lowest we could find,” said Mr. Schafer of Aurora Cooperative.