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Smart storage

Systems that monitor and remove heat, moisture, and odors or unhealthy air in livestock housing and replace them with cooler, fresh outside air are necessary for livestock productivity. Wisconsin farmer Andy Bensend believes the same is true for stored grain. 

“Most farmers understand what it means to have a million dollars’ worth of livestock in a barn. Whether it’s pigs, beef, or dairy, they ensure that facility has the proper ventilation to keep animals out of harm’s way,” Bensend says. “In a typical year, I store around $4 million worth of grain in several bins. Like livestock, that grain is too valuable an asset not to have safeguards in place to protect it.”

The $100,000 Mistake

In 2013, Bensend learned that lesson the hard way. Adverse weather conditions made harvest difficult that year, and the season wrapped up around Christmas. “The last of the soybeans went into the bin frozen, and I thought they were at about 20% moisture,” he recalls. “When I tried to dry them down to 13%, it was a dismal failure.”

At the time, Bensend’s bins weren’t equipped with technology that monitored and managed moisture levels and temperature changes, and the entire bin was lost. The $100,000 mistake made him realize it was time to make an adjustment. 

That year, Bensend installed AGI SureTrack BinManager on five bins. The automated system dries, cools, and rehydrates soybeans with precision while preserving the protein, oil, and starch contents. If something goes wrong, the system sends a text or email to alert him. An AGI representative may also call to ensure Bensend is aware of the problem, offering help on how to respond.

“I raise predominantly non-GMO, food-grade soybeans, and the market standards are very particular. Buyers don’t want them wet, and they don’t want them overdried,” he says. “They also tell me when to bring soybeans in — I don’t always know when that will be. It could be January or August, so the crop must be kept in good, marketable condition until buyers call in my contract. If I do that, I get paid nice premiums.”

With BinManager, he knows exactly what’s going on in his bins. “There’s rarely a need to go inside or climb a bin, so I am no longer putting my health and safety at risk, which is a big deal,” Bensend says, adding that nine of his bins are equipped with the system today.

Slow Adoption Rates

While technology is ingrained in many areas on the farm, systems that look after precious commodities have seen slow adoption. Jeff Fjelstul, general manager at Valley View Agri-Systems, says the reason basically comes down to cost. 

“The upfront cost can be a factor, but it’s the residual cost of a subscription that seems to be the largest pain point,” he says, adding that another element is evidence of value. 

“It is hard for farmers to just believe in technology; they have to witness it. It really is a journey and results are once a year, which makes adoption that much more difficult,” Fjelstul says. 

Farmers employing the technology understand the prompt return on investment. “They are not accepting the standard pricing and deductions that happen when crossing scales to sell grain,” he says.

For Bensend, it’s also about peace of mind. 

“If I can eliminate several problems and significant risk by investing in grain bin technology, it relieves that grief, which has significant value,” he says.

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