Storing Profits on the Farm

Expanding your grain storage and handling facilities can improve your bottom line.

By Des Keller | Photos By Christy Couch Lee

Stephen Sork

Stephen Sork

Stephen Sork knew from the time he was in fifth grade that working on the farm—being with his father, Ernie, grandfather, Marshall, and uncle, Vernon Gwaltney—was the life for him. “Dad and my uncle always let me help out,” says Steve, still a youthful-looking 45. “I loved it.”

What goes around comes around. Now Steve and wife, Amy, can foresee the day when their children might want to be a part of their Fairfield, Ill.-based Sork Farms. Sons Tanner, 16, Isaac, 14, Luke, 12, and daughters Taylor, 13, and Selah, 7, are all waiting in the wings.

Growing Family, Growing Farm

Generally, producers who want to accommodate additional generations have to grow, monitor expenses and maximize income. Steve, who is now partner in the operation with Ernie, is doing all the above.

Challenger track tractors help keep soil compaction to a minimum.

Challenger track tractors help keep soil compaction to a minimum.

For instance, during the past few years the two Sorks grew commodity corn, soybeans and wheat—with an occasional small foray into specialty crops, such as food-grade corn—on about 5,500 acres. That’s nearly double what they were farming 10 years ago.

In addition to farming more acreage, income growth has also come by watching markets. To hold their grain until the price is right, the Sorks have 500,000 bushels worth of storage, enough to hold 75% of the corn they harvest in an average year.

Half that capacity was added methodically over the past decade. “We had four bins and one grain leg,” says Steve. “We’ve added four additional bins, and in 2015 we installed a new GSI® Modular Series Tower Dryer and a new control board.”

Handling about 1,500 bushels of corn per hour if the grain starts at about 20% moisture, the new dryer allows for more flexibility in the timing of the harvest.

Their expanded storage capacity also allows the Sorks to keep their harvest machinery moving when the weather is right. “Previously we’ve had a lot of people in lines at the elevators waiting to be dumped,” says Steve. “If you have your own storage you can harvest whenever you want. It isn’t subject to elevator hours.”

Return on Investment

An Iowa State University analysis showed that, during the period studied, storage paid off. Between 2004 and 2013, holding grain off the market until the following spring resulted in prices 10 to 20% higher than those available during harvest.

Costs to purchase and build a storage system can be a bit easier to swallow when you see such long-term projections. Consider that the typical assumed life of a grain bin system is 25 years. Yet, it isn’t unusual for bins to be “perfectly usable” for much longer periods, according to the study.

The Sorks have improved “efficiencies by adding grain bins and improving material handling and conditioning equipment,” says Anthony Zurliene of Zurliene Enterprises, Inc. Anthony, along with brother Nicholas and their father, Don, are the dealers for GSI—a division of AGCO—who have designed and installed the Sorks’ ever-expanding system over the past decade.

Nuts and Bolts

The Sorks’ storage facilities include some of the latest innovations in bins and handling solutions. For instance, their new bins feature 4-inch corrugated side panels with external stiffeners that increase the vertical strength of the walls. The use of such stiffeners is relatively new and allows for better vertical load capacities, and therefore taller bins and smaller footprints on the farm.

Thanks to an expansion of on-farm storage and handling facilities, Sork says the timing of his harvest is less constrained by the operating hours of and frequent traffic tie-ups at local grain elevators.

Thanks to an expansion of on-farm storage and handling facilities, Sork says the timing of his harvest is less constrained by the operating hours of and frequent traffic tie-ups at local grain elevators.

Added in 2014, the TM 1015 GSI Modular Series Tower Dryer is part of a class of handling equipment that has grown in popularity in recent years for its ability to dry more efficiently. Essentially, the tower works by receiving grain via a “wet” leg where the moist, newly harvested corn is initially held.

The corn is then dried as it moves down in grain columns that surround a tubular dryer plenum. A burner at the bottom of the core heats up the air, which is forced up through the grain. Meanwhile, patented grain inverters invert the grain, leaving 2 inches at the outside to capture otherwise lost heat, improving efficiency and grain quality.

More Efficient, Gentler on Grain

The results have been as advertised, with Steve saying he is averaging 2 to 4 cents per bushel less in drying costs using the modular tower dryer over their previous continuous flow dryer. The Sorks also have reduced grain damage and minimized delivery time with a system that moves grain via an En-Masse conveyor equipped with a heavy-duty chain-tension take-up system instead of augers or air systems.

“Stephen Sork understands the value of on-farm storage and the ability to dry one’s own crop,” says Zurliene. “This allows him to have greater control over his crops and the ability to market the crop in a way that best benefits his operation.”