MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA, US — Grain prices are rising, COVID-19 cases are falling, and some hopeful signs are emerging for suppliers of grain storage and handling equipment.
Speaking during the Grain Elevator and Processing Society’s (GEAPS) online conference on Feb. 23, David Price, executive vice president of Warrior Manufacturing, LLC, a manufacturer of grain storage and handling equipment, said business is moving in a positive direction.
“There seems to be an uptick in activity, not just for us but for everybody in the industry,” Price said. “Whether it’s the rise in commodity prices or some other factor, I’m not sure what’s driving it, but projects are being funded again and it’s nice to see.”
The GEAPS online conference, held Feb. 23-25, featured a virtual trade show, virtual idea exchange, a virtual networking lounge, and eight educational sessions. An in-person GEAPS Exchange had been scheduled for this week in Columbus, Ohio, US, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been moved to Aug. 6-9.
Kirk Nelson, director of marketing and sales at Behlen Mfg. Co., agreed with Price’s assessment regarding the recent surge in order activity for both commercial and on-farm storage bins.
He said some of it could be attributed to “a sizable number of bins that went down in Iowa during the (derecho) windstorm last year, and these bins are now getting replaced, which also takes up some of the capacity to manufacture ‘new storage.’”
Nelson said that while the rise in grain prices is a positive development that typically spurs the purchasing of grain storage and handling equipment, it has been offset somewhat by soaring steel prices, which are nearing record highs. Steel is the raw material used to manufacture most grain bins.
Steve Sukup, president and chief executive officer of Sukup Manufacturing Co., noted that steel has doubled in price, with some of the increase having to be passed to the customer. A significant factor in the increase in steel costs is the 25% tariff on steel imports from a number of countries that was imposed by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. It is not known whether newly elected president Joe Biden intends to lift those tariffs.
“The steel tariffs need to come off,” Sukup said.
As for the general business climate, Sukup was optimistic.
“Orders have picked up nicely,” he said. “There are still lots of opportunities to increase efficiency in our customers’ drying and storage facilities. The recent rise in grain prices has put our customers back in the black so they have some spending opportunities.”
BIN INSEPCTION TIPS
With spring approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, commercial grain storage facilities often use this time to perform thorough inspections of their bins and grain handling equipment. Michael Blough of Clear Creek & Associates, during one of the GEAPS virtual educational sessions, emphasized the importance of these “preseason” inspections and provided a checklist of things to look for.
When inspecting a steel bin, at the top of the list is corrosion, Blough said.
“It is very common and is a very critical area to focus on because it can lead to a lot worse conditions if it’s not caught early,” he said.
The base of a bin is also an area where many problems can arise, Blough said, because it’s where moisture often builds up. He suggested checking the condition of the anchor bolts in the foundation as well as the concrete around the anchor bolts, which can be prone to cracking.
“If anchor bolts are loose or missing, they are easy to identify and relatively simple to address,” Blough said.
Another checklist item involves inspecting the ground around the perimeter of bins for sheered bolt heads, which could indicate that a section of the bin is susceptible to rupturing.
Bin roofs should also be inspected for wind or snow damage at the end of winter.
“If a new conveyor is being added to a roof structure, be mindful of the peak capacity for that roof,” Blough said. “You have to calculate whether the roof can hold the weight of a new conveyor plus a wet snowfall.”
He emphasized that all Guy-wires, which are used to stabilize standing structures, are attached to a sturdy component.
“Guy-wires often get attached to the nearest component instead of a component that is structurally sound,” Blough said. “They should not be attached to stiffeners but to strong components such as a beam or concrete foundations.”
For concrete bin structures, one of the most important things to look for are cracks, especially certain types of cracks, Blough said.
“Vertical cracks are one of our greatest areas of concern, particularly if it is perpendicular to the concrete reinforcement,” he said. “If it’s just one area that’s cracking, it might be something that can be repaired easily. If it’s in multiple areas of the structure, a liner may need to be installed.”
Given that this is the first time that GEAPS has hosted a virtual event, Steve Records, chief staff officer at GEAPS, said it has exceeded expectations.
“Feedback from both attendees and exhibitors has been very positive,” Records said. “We are seeing good interaction in our workshops and educational sessions, with people actively participating and asking questions. Our exhibitors seem very pleased as well. We’re hearing that there has been good traffic on the virtual show floor and meaningful discussions from prescheduled meetings.”
Records said GEAPS is considering having more virtual events in the future.
“There are a lot of logistics to work out, but we know there are many in the grain industry who just can’t travel to our in-person event each year,” he said. “Virtual events like this are a great opportunity to execute our mission and give these operators access to our network. Whether it’s in conjunction with, or in addition to, our in-person event, I see virtual events as a key way to engage and expand our member base.”