By adding plastic grain storage bags to his on-farm storage space, Ben McClure is expanding his ability to add another 55-65¢/bu. to his corn sales. And his brother Joel is storing 160,000 bu. in bags lying beside center-pivot circles, saving him countless hours of trucking grain 10 or more miles to town and not waiting on elevators to open at their convenience.

The McClures farm separately out of Hugoton, KS, in the far southwest corner of the state where irrigation is the only way to grow corn successfully. There are many nearby feedyards and a Seaboard swine operation that provide good markets for their corn. By storing grain in 250-ft.-long, 9-ft.-diameter bags that hold from 10,000 to 12,000 bu. each, both growers are enhancing their production and marketing efficiency.

Joel bought a Loftness Grain Bag storage system in 2009. It was after he tired of wringing his hands while waiting for trucks to haul corn to the local the elevator while his combine set idle.

“I bagged about 80,000 bu. in 2009 and have about 160,000 bu. this year,” says Joel. “I have about 140,000 bu. of corn and 20,000 bu. of sorghum in bags that lie beside the field where it was cut.

“With this system, I don’t have to haul it out of the field at harvest and can deliver it when I can receive about a 40¢/bu. better price.”

Ben McClure has a different situation. He used the bagging system for the first time in 2010 to complement new bins with 200,000 bu. in storage space. “I belong to a separate partnership, which installed the metal bins in 2009,” says Ben.“We put up the bins to deliver to nearby feedmills without going through a middleman (local elevator). We can obtain up to a 65¢/bu. better price for corn, depending on when we take it in.

“The bags are an extension of the bin storage capabilities. We can unload trucks directly to the bagging system. When we are ready to deliver grain in the late winter or early spring, it is the same moisture count as when we put it in at harvest (all at 15½% or under). We’re using several of the bags this year (2010) and will likely expand that as we become more familiar with them.”

The marketing advantages include not having to sell at harvest, when the local corn basis is normally at 25-30¢ under at the elevator. “In mid-February it’s closer to 5¢ over,” says Ben. “In the spring it’s 10-15¢ over. We can make sales for later delivery and take advantage of the better basis.”

How it works

Along with Loftness, there are Flexi-Grain Storage systems from Richiger and Delta Grain Bags Systems. All feature bags attached to a half-circle-shaped bagger, which is attached to a tractor. Grain is fed to the bagger either from a grain cart or combine auger, or from a truck that dumps grain onto a pan, which augers the grain into the bagger.

As the grain is moved forward into the bag by the compression auger, it gradually pushes against the bag's walls. The bag in turn opposes resistance, and the appropriate balance of pressure and tension is attained by properly regulating brake action on the bagger.

Meanwhile, the tractor is in neutral with the PTO engaged. As the bag fills, the bagger slowly moves. When the bag is full, it is sealed airtight with 2 x 4 boards bolted together. The seal 

keeps the well-packed grain dry until it’s removed.

“Of course, bags need to be on a flat surface,” says Joel. “During the storage period, you need to monitor the bags weekly to check for any potential animal damage. If the bag is punctured, it will likely seal itself from pressure from the grain. The grain is completely sealed and protected from insect damage.”

Grain is removed by unsealing the bag and attaching it to the unloader. It is augered into semitrailer grain beds. “It is completely free of insect damage and eggs,” says Joel. “It is the same quality as when it went in.”

Worth the investment?

Brian Olson, Kansas State University Extension agronomist in Colby, says growers have had good experiences with the plastic storage bag systems. “It saves on time, especially in 2009, when we had periods of rain during harvest and had only a few days to get something done,” says Olson. “Time was of the essence.”

He adds that “farmers need to make sure they keep the bags sealed. If any moisture gets in, it will hurt the quality.”

Cost of a typical grain bagger system will likely run from $50,000 to $70,000 for both the bagging and unloading system. Bags, which are not reusable, are available in 10,000- to 12,000-bu. capacity. Cost about 7¢/bu. of capacity, or about $700-850, depending on bag size.

Joel McClure bought his bagging system for about $70,000, plus the charge for bags. Brother Ben rents the system from his brother but buys his own bags. “Paying 7¢/bu. for storage capacity is certainly cheaper than paying about $1/bu. for a metal storage bin,” he says.

Olson notes that there were some USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) insurance-eligibility questions regarding grain stored in bags. “There was concern at RMA that the grain was not being stored in an approved manner,” he says. “But those issues have been resolved.”

Officials of the RMA in Topeka, KS, say procedures were recently updated and insured producers can store grain in bags without affecting their coverage. But they encourage producers to alert their authorized insurance agents that they are using the bagging systems to help prevent any confusion.

Joel says corn or other grain should not be blended in a bag. Ben, however, has a situation in which he can blend grain from the bags with other grain stored in neighboring metal bins. His storage bags are situated within a few hundred yards of the storage bins. If moisture is different in the bag than in a bin, it can be blended with the bin-stored grain. “We have scales for accurate inventory accounting,” says Ben.

“There are many advantages of using these types of bagging systems,” concludes Joel. “I see them being part of our corn, milo and wheat storage for a long time.”

December 2010