Grain growers across the Australian wheat belts relished phenomenal yields during the 2016 season however, this was soured by a downwards spiral in grain prices presenting marketing, storage and cash flow challenges to growers.
Large quantities of grain coming off the header resulted in numerous trips to receival sites and slower turnaround times making logistics and transport a juggling act.
Glen Morley of Kerang based business Ag-Crete said that he knows of one case when turnaround time for trucks delivering to the receival site was six hours for a farm only 30 minutes from the site. This meant the header had to stop harvesting for long periods of time, increasing the risk of loss due to bad weather.
“In this case, the grower didn’t have to stop for bad weather or anything else, it was simply because the truck was held up at the receival site,” he said.
With harvest just around the corner it is likely too late for many to increase silo storage capacity, but growers still have time to implement on-farm bunkers.
Mr Morley explained that “Growers with sufficient on-farm storage didn’t have to worry about truck turnaround time and they had more control over the sale of their grain.”
What growers do need to think about when considering building a bunker on-farm is site selection, as this will affect both the ease of use and the ability to maintain grain quality.
“Growers need a site that can easily be accessed by a semi-trailer, and the orientation and slope of the site needs to be correct to make it easier for loading and ensuring the bunker remains weather tight,” Mr Morley advises.
“You want the bunker to slope away from the prevailing wind, because it makes loading a lot less stressful if the tarp isn’t flying around.”
Bunker location was also stressed by PCB Consulting grain storage expert Peter Botta, who in 2016 advised growers to try not to locate bunkers close to harvested crops given mice numbers.
The length of time grain can be stored in bunkers depends on machinery and storage hygiene, grain temperature and moisture levels, and whether the bunker is properly setup for fumigation. Most farm bunkers are suitable for a few months storage, unless properly setup to allow aeration and fumigation.
The two main benefits of bunkers, as compared to sheds, is that they are a fraction of the price, and can be installed, moved or sold relatively quickly and easily. Compared to bags, they hold a lot more, and are less susceptible to damage. Compared to silos, they are probably one-sixth of the price, depending on the quality of the silos selected and the storage volume required.
Unloading is an important consideration when investing in a bunker, because an ordinary auger is unable to do the job (except flat bottom silo augers) however this can be worked out afterwards if necessary.
Mr Morley’s key messages for getting the most out of on-farm bunkers include:
1) Choose your site wisely and ensure it is prepared properly.
2) Set the bunker up properly from the beginning, make sure everything lines up and is put together accurately.
3) Have good quality tarps.
4) Make sure machinery and site is clean before use to minimise pests, and no grain left lying around afterwards near the bunker.
Mr Morley does stress that “if growers are interested in putting in a bunker this year they need to get organised now as time is running out, in 2016 we sold out and so did the tarp manufacturers.”