Given that it was the first time that the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) hosted a virtual event in place of its regularly scheduled in-person Exchange, the GEAPS online conference exceeded expectations, said Steve Records, chief staff officer of GEAPS.

The 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 that week in Columbus, Ohio, US, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been moved to Aug. 6-9.

“Feedback from both attendees and exhibitors has been very positive,” Records said after the first day of the conference. “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.”

Improving business climate

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 a product presentation during the online conference on Feb. 23, David Price, executive vice president of Warrior Manufacturing, LLC, a grain storage and handling equipment maker, 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.”

Several others in the grain storage and processing equipment sector agreed with Price’s assessment.

Kirk Nelson, director of marketing and sales at Behlen Mfg. Co., said there’s been a recent surge in order activity for both commercial and on-farm storage bins, adding that he also could not pinpoint the precise reason for the resurgence.

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.

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% tariffs 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 have put our customers back in the black so they have some spending opportunities.”

Bin inspection tips

Photos courtesy of Nohr Engineering Company.

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 specific problems to look for.

When inspecting a steel bin, one of the important things to look for 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 at the base of bins where moisture often builds up. He suggested checking the condition of the anchorbolts in the foundation as well as the concrete around the anchorbolts, which can be prone to cracking.

“If anchorbolts 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.”

Make sure 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, it’s important to look forcracks, and certain types of cracks are of greater concern than others, 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.”

GEAPS Foundation accepting grant applications

The Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) Foundation, which recently reached its endowment goal of $4 million, announced its first ever grant application invitation in March.

David Krejci, executive director of the GEAPS Foundation and former executive vice president of GEAPS, said total available funding for the 2021 awards, expected to be announced in October, is $182,000. He said grant funding is available to any organization, institution or individual who can demonstrate competence and capacity for developing and delivery of eligible projects responsive to the Foundation’s purpose to “support development of new and innovative resources for training grain and oilseed supply chain industry professionals that are complementary to the continuing education programs of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society.”

The GEAPS Foundation was launched in 2010 as an initiative to create an independent but GEAPS-affiliated foundation to help support and complement the education and training purpose at the core of the association’s mission. Krejci said the goal was to build a $4 million endowment that would provide “sustainable and independent funding to support development of new and innovative sources for training grain and oilseed supply chain operations professionals.”

To be eligible for funding, projects must be complementary to GEAPS’ professional development program with respect to the following core competencies:

  • Agribusiness environment and management practice
  • Facilities maintenance and design
  • Facility operations management
  • Grain handling equipment management
  • Grain quality management
  • Handling systems and operations technology management
  • Human resources management
  • Process flow operations
  • Property and casualty risk management

Mark Fedje, a plant manager for General Mills and chairman of the Foundation’s governing board, said it has been rewarding to be directly involved in the fundraising work.

“The collective experience, insight, and dedication of the governing board to ensuring sustained success in pursuit of the Foundation’s purpose is inspiring and reassuring,” Fedje said.

Krejci said about 75% of the $4 million endowment was donated by GEAPS and made possible by the sustained success of GEAPS Exchange in generating surplus revenue from the trade show. The remaining 25% came from direct support by grain companies and industry equipment, services, and technology solutions providers (to see donors, visit Beginning in 2021, the Foundation intends to make grant money available on an annual basis, accepting applications each spring and announcing award winners in the fall.