More than a year after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought the world to a halt, the global grain storage and handling industry is feeling its impacts in higher raw material costs and labor shortages, said equipment suppliers who responded to a recent World Grain survey.

Like many agriculture businesses, this industry is relationship driven, one supplier said, and a handshake means a lot.

“We were unable to do that last year,” they said. “COVID-19 had a significant impact on business last year. In this coming year, it is impacting business probably even more.”

Because of all the shutdowns, suppliers said they are seeing shortages in the marketplace.

“While we are back out shaking hands, it is extremely difficult to get supplies, and even labor is at a shortage,” the supplier said.

The COVID-19 crisis continues to be a challenging time, another supplier said, but adaptability, flexibility, and consistency have helped them to continue to provide service and high-quality products. The business learned to adapt to the new circumstances by maintaining a safe and healthy work environment; continuing communication with top dealers to support them and their end users; and building a sustainable inventory to overcome any of the demand surges experienced during the first and second quarter.

Looking ahead, several suppliers said they expect to see a surge in demand as confidence returns, more people are vaccinated, and life starts returning to normal. One supplier noted that the backlog of orders is up 16% from last year with a steady flow of maintenance and smaller projects.

The supplier noted a return to more normal customer behavior as pandemic-related delays have begun to wane in the United States, while in Canada customers are continuing to hold off on projects due to COVID-related uncertainties. However, because of a significant amount of quoting activity in Canada, the supplier believes activity in that region will start to increase in the second half of 2021.

Other regions seeing significant activity include Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as Asia Pacific. Countries in Africa are seeing an increase in grain demand as local populations continue their growth trend.

Mexico also is expanding its storage and feed mill production capacity to increase its exposure to export markets with finished products.

Along with a backlog of orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing price of commodities and the higher demand for food are driving business in the grain storage and handling industry.

“If it wasn’t for the high price of commodities, farmers wouldn’t be buying because of the high price of steel right now,” a supplier said. “The other things that we are seeing is just the general updating of sites to handle larger volumes coming in. Combines are harvesting faster and faster every year, and these sites need to be able to keep up.”

Customers want bigger and bigger hopper silos as well as more self-sustained systems that require less interaction by operators. Less interaction from operators is also a common request so suppliers are seeing an increasing demand for automated and self-sustained systems. Others are seeking designs based on the land availability and trying to meet their specific needs within the site parameters.

Here is a look at some of the recently completed grain storage and handling projects around the world.

State-of-the-art terminal for Chimpex

Chimpex, one of the leading port-operating and stevedoring companies at the Port of Constanta in Romania, is the main port operator for fertilizers, wheat, corn, barley, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, soybeans and feedstuffs. With an overall storage capacity of 600,000 tonnes, the core business of Chimpex is bulk loading and unloading services as well as import and export of bulk cargo.

The company decided to build a grain terminal to be more efficient and provide top services to its clients. Bühler, based in Uzwil, Switzerland, supplied the storage and handling equipment, which included 20 steel silos with a capacity of 20,000 tonnes each, for a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes. The terminal had to comply with stringent food safety as well as health and environmental regulations.

Bühler also provided 28 chain conveyors with a capacity of 400 tph and two chain conveyors with a capacity of 800 tph; five elevators with a capacity of 400 tph and two elevators with a capacity of 800 tph; four belt conveyors with a capacity of 400 tph and two belt conveyors with a capacity of 800 tph; and a dust aspiration system.

Installation of the new terminal had to be completed without interrupting operations at the port. The new installation reduced losses by 20%, cargo contamination also was reduced significantly, and storage capacity was increased by 50%.

In addition, because Chimpex was facing a shortage of manpower, the new terminal can be operated with fewer personnel. The new design also supports Chimpex in its efforts to provide optimal working conditions and high standards of health and safety.

Pender Grain adds to storage

Pender Grain in Thurston, Nebraska, US, recently expanded its capacity at its existing truck site. The 1-million-bushel expansion was completed in time for last fall’s harvest. The project took five months to complete, and the new bins and handling equipment were supplied by Chief Agri, Kearney, Nebraska, US.

The addition was a large expansion to an already large site that handles corn and soybeans. The expansion included one 455,000-bushel-capacity steel bin with a height of 96 feet and a 536,000-bushel-capacity steel bin that is 110-feet tall. The handling equipment has a capacity of 15,000 bph loading and reclaim of 10,000 bph. Chief supplied all the towers, structures and material handling.

Chief has worked with Pender previously on multiple other storage projects during the last 15 years.

Minoterie Achark adds to mill’s storage

Minoterie Achark recently added wheat storage capacity at its flour mill in Oujda, Morocco. The company belongs to the Zine Capital Invest group, a leading miller in Morocco.

For the project, Symaga, based in Villarta De San Juan, Spain, provided the bins and related equipment. Assembly time of the silos and accessories was completed in record time. It was estimated the work would take at least three months, but it was completed in just one month.

Symaga supplied six flat-bottom silos model SBHX1451/16 with a capacity of 2,587.18 tonnes each (with a wheat density of 750 kg/cubic meters) and accessories.

Accessories included catwalks and supports for the main and cross conveyors; six sweep augers with a capacity of 35 cubic meters per hour for wheat; and a set of special erection tools. Symaga also provided supervisory services.

Egyptian Swiss constructs new storage

Egyptian Swiss for Pasta, a part of Egyptian Swiss Co., built a greenfield wheat storage facility in Cairo, Egypt, with a total capacity of 42,000 tonnes. Egyptian Swiss is part of Egyptian Swiss Co. SAE, which started flour production in 2003, that exports to Middle East and African countries. It also manufactures several dry pasta shapes from petite shells to long pasta.

The grain storage facility took eight months to construct, with commissioning this April, and was supplied by AGI EMEA, AGI’s manufacturing division based in Bologna, Italy. The project was unique in that it was engineered and manufactured to be a state-of-the-art facility with equipment offering the highest efficiency and reliability.

The facility is built for long lasting operations, which was taken into consideration with the handling equipment, AGI EMEA said. It included customizing with drop forged chain, plastic flights as well as the lining and monitoring sensors.

AGI EMEA provided 12 flat-bottom silos with a capacity of 3,500 tonnes each, a diameter of 15.46 meters and overall height of 26.24 meters, truck loading silos, handling equipment with loading and unloading capacity of 150-tph, pre-cleaning and electrical equipment.

Cattle feedlot duplicates facility

Productores Ganaderos Gusi is the largest automated cattle feed installation in Tamuin, Mexico. It recently added a new facility that doubled its existing production capacity. The facility handles a range of products, including soybean meal, dried distillers grains, corn, hay, flake corn, silage and micro ingredients.

Sweet Manufacturing, based in Springfield, Ohio, US, supplied heavy-duty including 72-inch belth conveyors, 3026 drag conveyors and a large number of stainless steel conveyors and bucket elevators to increase material handling efficiency. The equipment’s capacities range from 150 tph to 250 tph for the finished product.

The project took about 18 months to install by Sweet dealer OCESA and is an important investment by GUSI to further expand its increasing exposure to export markets with premium cattle beef.

GUSI can expect the equipment to last for years to come, further building upon its mission to grow as a company and solidifying its role as a prominent player in Mexico’s fast-growing cattle market.

SUBA Seeds adds flat storage

Increasing demand for seed was putting a strain on production for SUBA Seeds in Longiano, Italy, and it needed a new approach to its single big-bag system. The company wanted a mass storage plant to improve reception capabilities and a seed cleaning line to support the kind of volumes that would improve its sale capabilities. 

SUBA initially approached Cimbria, based in Thisted, Denmark, for only a seed cleaning line and it considered other suppliers for a typical storage solution. Cimbria pointed out that mass storage based on steel silos would risk damaging the seed in loading and unloading operations and that steel silos can generate temperature issues that can cause condensation. 

Cimbria also noted that standard conveying equipment risks damaging seeds and causing cross-contamination.  Steel silos can be very useful during the season, but during the rest of the year they remain empty and cannot be used for other applications.

Cimbria presented an alternative project for a fully automated flat storage warehouse along with mechanized equipment consisting of RS7 self-cleaning chain conveyors, low-speed and high-capacity bucket elevators (ED12LS) and cleaning performed by means of a Delta 146 pre-cleaner.

The new general layout has a more compact appearance and features receiving and processing lines close to each other, thus reducing the number of operators needed to run different tasks. The storage facility is able to receive and manage both big-bags and raw product delivered by truck.

The building is available for different uses: product storage during the season and as a warehouse during the rest of the year.

SUBA decided to award Cimbria the whole project as an electro-mechanical turnkey supply. After one-year of operation and accumulation of experience with the new plant, SUBA presented requests for further developments, including a larger pre-cleaner to provide better performance in terms of total receiving capacity. SUBA also wants to create another receiving pit dedicated to legumes. The new line envisages using the “old” Delta 146 to pre-clean the product for loading into big-bags or for conveying the product directly to the seed cleaning buffer bins.

SUBA is still developing the new facility to further improve its business. The different approach to the initial project provided a number of major advantages, including being able to cover a market area that could not be covered without a significant improvement in total capacity. The value of the company also increased with the construction of the new warehouse and SUBA was able to enter new product markets through the flexibility of Cimbria’s seed cleaning lines.