BEEMER — They’re found in fields, on farms and at grain elevators and cooperatives — unfamiliar white objects, simply known as grain bags.
They’re long, made of white plastic and can hold a variety of different grains. They’re also becoming a more familiar sight in this corner of the state.
Mike Baumert with Scribner Grain and Lumber, a grain elevator and feed mill based in Scribner, said he had used the bags in Scribner and also near here for the past four years.
An area dealer sells him the bags that are produced from a Minnesota-based company called Up North Plastics. They come in various sizes.
Baumert uses bags that are 12 feet wide and 500 feet long. Ones used on farms are typically 10 feet wide.
"I like it because I can get a lot out of one bag," he said.
Two such bags in Scribner are filled with soybean meal and can hold about 35,000 bushels.
Filling and emptying the bags is a quick process relative to traditional grain storage, but a separate machine is required for each process.
"It's just a machine that takes a lot of volume to make work, and it feeds it through this machine, and as the bag gets full, it just keeps pushing the machine ahead, pretty much by force," Baumert said.
"Since we have the bags right across the street (from Scribner Grain), I can take an auger wagon, and we can fill a bag in less than probably five or six hours," he said.
Another machine then gets the grain out.
“You hook up the device with a tractor, and then it automatically just starts rolling up, and as it rolls up, it feeds the augers,” he said.
Baumert said the bag could be unloaded into a semi-trailer and filled within minutes. But both filling and emptying the bags require some manpower.
"It's a labor-intense process. It takes probably about three guys to do it right. That is the only problem," he said.
Another potential negative quality of the bags is that they may break.
"Every time you get a hole poked into it, you risk that chance that it'll open," Baumert said. "There are markings on the side of the bag that you have to watch so you don't overfill it."
But if that happens, you have to start all over.
"Once it tears, it tears from start to finish. There is absolutely no stopping it. It makes a nice straight line down the middle, and it just falls open and there you've got 35,000 bushels of corn out in the open," he said.
Wildlife, like deer and rodents, and the elements can cause problems, too.
"I think the deer had tried to walk up on top of the pile, and then they stepped in it and then they poked a hole in it. In those cases, you just duct tape them," he said. "The worst thing is a hailstorm. They don't go through hailstorms very well."
There's not enough duct tape in town to patch it after that, he said.
Despite the shortcomings, there are many advantages, too. Baumert said the bags are a completely closed system once filled and closed.
"You don't lose any moisture by doing it because it's air-tight; you don't have any spoilage," Baumert said. "It comes out just as good as it goes in. That's the part I like the best."
Despite some ripping, Baumert said the plastic of the bags is strong. But it doesn't last forever.
"They only guarantee it for two years, and after that, because of sunlight and weather, it does start to break down. So it's temporary at best. It's not made for long-term storage," he said.
The bags can be used only one time, so once they are emptied, they must be disposed of. But Baumert has found that the plastic can be repurposed, especially because of its thickness and durability.
"I've had a lot of people, when they see the bags, they'll want them," Baumert said. "People ask me for pieces of the bag, and I just give them away."
A primary use is to serve as temporary extra storage, an alternative for making a pile of grain on the ground.
"Two and three years ago, we had a very good harvest, and in lieu of putting corn on the ground in an open area, where it's going to be exposed to the weather and everything, we went ahead and bagged it. And I'm glad we did," he said.
"We had no spoilage at all, they cleaned up very well, and so I really like them as a plan B instead of letting the corn out in the open."
Baumert said he plans to continue to use the bags whenever he needs extra storage. Since he has already purchased the equipment needed to make use of them, he said the costs of the bag offset the losses incurred if the grain is not bagged and piled on the ground.
This year's harvest doesn't fall into that surplus category in the Scribner area that prompted Baumert to invest in the bags in the first place, but it isn't in the bad category either. Baumert said he thought the soybean harvest was good and better than corn.
"Because of all of the weather we had in June and mostly because of the wind, we lost a lot of corn bushels," he said.
The bean harvest made up for the poorer corn with much of the crop reaching 70 bushels per acre, even in areas that were temporarily under water during summer floods.
But Baumert said conditions in Beemer were different despite the close proximity to Scribner. He attributed it to the flooding that plagued the Scribner area and the lack of wind knocking down corn in the Beemer area, which had a surplus of corn that required extra storage.
Baumert said they have about 14 of the 10-foot-wide grain bags at Beemer. They each are holding about 14,000 bushels of corn.