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Grain carts

 As farmers continue to look for ways to speed up harvest, many producers have turned to grain carts, especially when their ground is saturated.

“When it gets wet like it did in years past, a gravity wagon won't go through the mud like a grain cart will,” says Cliff Neubauer, Fairfield, Iowa. “In the mud, the grain cart more than doubled our combining capacity. If we load wagons when it's wet, the combine would have to go to the road to dump every time, which kills combine productivity.”

While a grain cart can mean the difference in getting the crop out of the field in less-than-ideal conditions, the numbers tell a bigger story.

“A grain cart enhances a combine's performance more than 25% by unloading on-the-go without making the combine stop and wait,” says Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch, Kinze Manufacturing.

Steve Swartzrock, Swartzrock Implement, Inc., in Charles City, Iowa, says farmers can shave $100 per hour off their combine and, at the same time, take a third of the hours off their hour meter by investing in a grain cart.

“In the old days, farmers would come to the end of a row and unload the combine. With a grain cart, farmers can now unload on-the-go and take a third of the hours off the combine in a year,” Neubauer says. “That amounts to a $15,000 savings if I can knock $100 per hour off the combine.”

For example, Neubauer says if a Brent 1082 (a 1,000-plus-bushel unit) sells for $32,500 (including scale), the return on investment will be realized in less than three years.

“A grain cart is one of those things that once you have it, you will never want to farm without it,” says Neubauer.

Know before you go

If you're in the market for a grain cart, ask yourself four questions before your head out to kick a few tires.

1. How much does your combine's grain tank hold? “For example, if your combine has a 350-bushel tank, you will have to dump twice onto an 800-bushel cart,” says Veatch. “The larger the combine, the larger grain cart size you will want.”

2. How big of a tractor do you have to pull the cart? “You need to make sure your tractor is large enough to pull the cart safely in the field and on the road,” Veatch notes. “Also, when a cart can unload 1,000+ bushels in less than two minutes, you will need 250+ hp. in order to do it well.”

3. Will you want to be able to fill a semi in one dump from the grain cart?

4. How is your operation going to grow or change in the future? “If your operation is expected to grow, you may want to avoid purchasing too small a cart,” Veatch says.

The next step is to evaluate key features, which should include simplicity, serviceability, future resale value, reputation of the manufacturer, and durability (strength of design).

“Look at base weight for strength components,” says Veatch. “All of these factors mean lower cost of ownership in the long run because of many years of dependable service to the owner.”

Also, be sure to look at weight balance when the cart is empty and full, safety features, ability to add options you might need at purchase, undercarriage options that match the needs of your terrain, and unloading speed.

Swartzrock adds three other factors to take into consideration.

1. Size. A lot of farmers try to size a grain cart to holding capacity. “If you have a 600-bushel wagon, try to get a 600-bushel cart,” says Swartzrock.

But also remember that you want a cart that is large enough to keep up with hauling grain from the combine to the trucks or wagons.

2. Wheels or Tracks. “Tracks are better through the mud than a wheeled machine. But investing in tracks has a higher membership fee – they'll cost you about $40,000,” Swartzrock notes. “For example, a 1,000-bushel cart with 35.5×32 tires has 18.27 psi. If you go to tracks, your psi goes to 10.92. That's a big advantage, but the cost of getting there is high.”

While tracks may add a significant dollar amount to the purchase price, Veatch says they can make the cart work significantly better in the field, which results in less soil compaction. In fact, she says she is seeing a substantial growth in farmers investing in carts with tracks.

3. Height. If you have an older combine, height is something to consider. “Loading heights get taller each year with newer model combines, and it becomes less of an issue,” Swartzrock notes. “Typically, the height for grain carts, on the low side, is under 12 feet. Most unloading augers are 14 to 14.5 feet.”

What will it cost?

The cost of a grain cart is tied directly to two main factors: size of the cart and the type of tires or tracks.

“A 1,000-bushel Kinze grain cart can range from $70,000 to $105,000,” says Veatch. “The unit with tracks will be on the higher end of that range.”

One trend companies are seeing is a shift to a larger cart.

“As users of grain carts continue to discover the many advantages of on-the-go combine unloading, they frequently upgrade to larger units with more features to meet their needs,” says Jerry Ecklund, Unverferth Manufacturing.

“The increased use of scales to complement information farmers already collect from their yield monitor is also a growing trend,” he adds.

Another trend Unverferth Manufacturing is noticing is the increased use of a directional downspout to target grain flow with the cart. This eliminates moving the tractor multiple times to fill the truck.

To help in your search for a grain cart, the chart on the next page shows a sampling of 1,000+-bushel grain carts from various manufacturers.


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