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- SPECIAL REPORT -

Grain Storage Solutions Are
‘In The Bag’


By Charley Knabb

 
Blues travelers along legendary U.S. Highway 61 in the Mississippi Delta are always treated to numerous sights and sounds as they travel through the land of cotton. During the last two years, however, the new attractions have little to do with the blues – and even less to do with cotton.

From Sikeston, Mo., to Vicksburg, Miss., turnrows once marked with rows of cotton modules in the fall are now lined with long, white plastic bags. Laid out like huge, mutant caterpillar larvae, they symbolize the fundamental truth about today’s cotton industry.

The bags are filled with grain. Corn, soybeans, milo, wheat and even rice are stored within them and, though they have their critics, many say grain storage bags are a sight that cotton country should become accustomed to seeing.

Although storing grain in plastic bags has only recently become an acceptable option in the United States, it has been a common practice for years in South America and Canada.

Rick Harrell of Delta Grain Bag Systems, Inc. in Monette, Ark., points out that “it’s the change in the markets that made them (grain bags) so popular so quickly.”

Harrell explains how his father, Bill, a farmer and ginner himself, spent years traveling the Cotton Belt as a farm equipment auctioneer. As cotton acres began shifting to grain, Harrell recognized the need and opportunity to provide cotton farmers with an inexpensive means to handle their grain.

Major Distribution

After obtaining a dealership in early 2007, the Harrells now distribute and sell three of the five brands of grain bagging equipment nationwide. To date, approximately 200 producers own one of their machines.

“It began as a need for cheap storage for cotton farmers who didn’t have any,” says Harrell, “but it’s turned into a little more than that.”

Darin Owens of Cobb Farms in Lake City, Ark., agrees.

“We bought the bagger initially to help get the crop out of the field and out of the elements,” he says.

But after referring to their original harvest capacity of 75 to 80 corn acres per day, he claims, “Now, (with grain bags) we’re cutting 150 to 160 acres a day!”

Owens still hauls a portion of his grain to river terminals during harvest with his own trucks, but he is no longer concerned with the turnaround time associated with long lines.

“I remember when I got a boll buggy, and it flat amazed me,” Owens says. “It was like having another picker in the field. Using a bagger is like having another combine without the wait.”

Helping Solve A Problem

A similar increase in harvest efficiency was gained on the Wiggers’ farm near Winnsboro, La.

Rusty Wiggers, a fourth-generation cotton producer, now finds himself harvesting more than 1,000 acres of corn with one combine.

“When it started raining, we had 100 acres left,” he says. “We had harvested right around 1,000 acres in four days.”

In describing the 2008 corn harvest ahead of Hurricane Gustav, he painted an encouraging scenario.

“We rolled all the way through and never stopped,” he says.

In the aftermath of Gustav, the last 100 acres yielded 100 bushels per acre, according to Wiggers. That was 85 bushels per acre short of the rest.

One would think that rescuing 85,000 bushels of corn from storm damage would be justification alone for a grain bagging system purchase, but the Louisiana producer brought up another common appeal for using grain bags.

“Not having to pay basis at the elevator and not having to truck itpays for the equipment and the bags,” says Wiggers.

Joe Sorrell of Mount Level Farm in East Prairie, Mo., sums it up best when talking about recent commodity market changes.

“After Katrina came through and these bases went berserk, everybody really started to look at what they could do to control the grain a little better,” he says.

Needing to increase storage capacity for conventional, food grade grains but not wanting the capital expense of more bins, Sorrell thought he’d try the bags to see how they worked.

Efficient Farm Operation

Although Mount Level Farm is a private grain storage and farming operation, it has incorporated grain bag storage into its strategies for segregating different grain commodities and handling overflow. And while the farm has built bags on-site within protected areas of the granary, Sorrell speculates that some of the practices incorporated may be duplicated at other area storage facilities.

“If you look at the carries in the market, sometimes 30 to 60 days makes a huge difference on basis,” he says. “These things (bags) are really good for a 30-to-60 day deal.”

Cotton farmers will understand after hearing the story of Richy Bibb from Tunica, Miss.

“It’s a module builder for grain,” he says. “If you put wet cotton in that module, its not going to be good. If you put wet grain in that bag, it’s probably not going to turn out the way you want it to.”

Similar Challenges

Though Bibb dealt with minor issues in unloading his 2008 crop bags concerning leakage and moisture, he recognizes the potential to cause greater damage.

“All the same problems you have with a module are similar here,” he says. “You’ve got to be wise about using them.”

Of any losses sustained during his first year with bags, Bibb says, “I lose as much in my grain bins each year as I did with bags. It’s a good thing and I’d do it again.”

Regardless of cotton’s future, grain bagging systems are gaining in popularity. According to the Harrells, business should improve in 2009.

While some farmers will build more bins to handler larger amounts of grain, others will find their answers “in the bag.”

Charley Knabb is manager of Three-Way Gin in Tunica, Miss. Contact him at charleyknabb@yahoo.com or (662) 357-3713.



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