Farmers put a tremendous amount of time and energy into growing and harvesting a crop, and one North Dakota State University Extension educator said it’s important to maximize the value of that crop with high-quality grain handling equipment.

Dr. Ken Hellevang, professor and interim chairman of the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering department, said it’s a “pet peeve” of his when farmers don’t take enough time to get the right grain handling systems in place.

“Farmers are very much in tune with everything involved in the production of their grains,” he said. “Some farmers have become lax when we start to talk about what to do with it after it’s harvested. At that point, farmers have their entire investment of time, energy, and money all wrapped up in that crop, everything from spraying to planting to harvesting.

“For us to not manage the commodity properly while it’s in storage just doesn’t make sense. Any loss at that point is a direct loss from our bottom line.”

Grain handling equipment is similar to other types of agricultural machinery in that it’s gotten bigger and more efficient. The most obvious improvement is the size of each bin. Hellevang said the storage capacity of today’s grain bins is almost “overwhelming” when you compare it to a few years ago.

“It wasn’t too many years ago that a farmer would have a 10,000-bushel grain bin,” he recalled. “Today, most grain bins are in the neighborhood of 50-100,000-bushel capacity. Farmers have gotten bigger and we’re producing a lot more grain these days.”

The days of moving an auger between grain bins to load and unload grain are mostly over, he said. Grain handling is now done by a system of machinery that features more advanced controls than ever.

“You’ll stand in one location and be able to open and close bins, to figure out which bin the grain is going into, and where the grain is coming from, all while in a control room that’s part of the grain-handling facility,” he said.

Most grain bins have temperature-sensing cables in several different areas of the bins. The central readout can be as sophisticated as a farmer wants it to be. It can be as simple as a “hand-held output device,” a control panel at the bin site, a computer, or a smartphone. The companies that manufacture grain-handling systems all approach the task a little differently.

“I don’t know if one is necessarily better than the other,” he said, “but they do have different options available.

“Many of today’s systems will have a grain dryer as part of the equipment. There will be four or five different types of features among the types of dryers out there. Each type will have its own benefits and limitations, so it’s very important that each farmer spend a little time knowing what those are and what system will fit their operation most efficiently.

“It’s the same thing with grain bins,” Hellevang added. “They have to be able to handle the challenges that are involved with storing grain, but they also need to be able to handle whatever the environment throws at them. That includes handling a snow load piling up on them during the winter in northern states.”

When a farmer looks at the different temperature cables among each system, there probably isn’t going to be a big difference in how they’re put together, Hellevang said. The approach to how each system monitors the temperature and what farmers can do with the apparatus will vary a bit. It depends on the unique needs of each operation. Farmers have to know what they need ahead of time.

“For instance, you may want to go with a bigger hopper to unload the grain a little faster at harvest,” Hellevang said. “That means the conveyor system will move the grain at a little slower rate and permit you to go with a less-expensive system. You have to know the total package of your needs going into it.

“Spend some time talking to multiple dealers. Get some ideas of what they propose. Talk to a few farmers who have a system similar to something you might be considering. Remember, the optimal system on your farm will depend a lot on your location and what kinds of crops you’ll be growing and storing. Do some homework and make the right choice for your farm.”

Chad Smith can be reached at