30 Days of Dirt Roads: Bin Sites

Yesterday in the 30 Days of Dirt Roads series, I wrote about grain elevators, and the way they're tied to food production and Dirt Roads. Today, we're talking about bin sites. To make sure we're all on the same page: grain elevators are owned by grain marketing companies. Farmers deliver their crops to different elevators based on the prices being offered by different companies. Bin sites (whether they have 1 or 150 bins) are where farmers store their grain and seed that isn't hauled directly to the elevator during harvest. Crops are stored for several reasons, but usually either there isn't time to haul it to the elevator right from the field, or the price isn't right during harvest and it's better for the farmer to wait and market the crop later in the season. A bin site might be nothing more than one or two bins in a farm yard. IMG_2813 Or it could be several bins grouped together in a central location, with one, or sometimes different owners. Ideally, these storage sites are easy to access, both during harvest when the grain or seed is going into the bin. Grain bin site in a farm yard in Montana. And when it's time to empty the crops into trucks to be hauled to the elevator. IMG_2037 There are flat bottom bins IMG_2035 And hopper bottom bins from phone 8-22-14 100 Flat bottom bins hold more product, but can be difficult to unload. The last of the wheat in the bin has to be shoveled into the auger. It's called 'butting a bin', & believe me, if you've ever been the guy with the shovel, you don't have to ask why they call it that. 20140730_083553 Hopper bottom bins hold less and are more expensive, but are much easier to unload. The type of bin a farmer uses depends on several factors-- location, cost, the type of product it's intended for, the distance from the farm, and often, how long it's been there. Bins can be moved, but if Grandpa put one up 30 years ago, there's got to be a pretty good reason to spend the time & money to have it relocated. On our farm, and many others like it, we have bins spread all over the place. And believe it or not, there's a method to the madness. During harvest, it takes longer to haul the grain or seed that's being harvested to a bin site miles and miles away. The closer to the field the bin is, the quicker a field can be cut. And at a time of year when every second counts, that kind of efficiency is key. The tricky part comes later in the season, when it's time to empty the bins & haul the commodities to elevators. If it's not done at harvest, much of the hauling happens during the winter months. If you live in the Southern US, that's not a problem. But if you live much nearer the North Pole, like we do, the logistics become a bit more difficult. This road to this bin site is already snow covered, & if the crop isn't hauled out soon, we'll risk having to plow the road if we get more snow, or chaining up tires to give traction on the ice that will build up. The site is only a mile from the yard at the North place, but it can take some time to get to it if the winter weather doesn't cooperate. IMG_3042 This road to our fields at the West place may or may not be open for the winter, depending on how much snow we get. It's usually one of the first bins we haul, or the last, in the spring, after the roads thaws and firm up again. IMG_1503 These bins are at a bin site just off the highway. It's a site that has several different owners in one location. IMG_2120 And these bins are on the hill, just above our house. But if it rains and the road up the hill gets too wet, all bets are off. Too much snow, and it's the same story. bins above house So what's the common thread here? You guessed it.... Dirt Roads! Even the bins at the site just off the highway are situated on dirt, connected by little dirt trails. If it rains too much, you can't get to them. If it snows too much, you can't get to them until someone can get a tractor started to plow the snow. Someone asked me one time why we didn't just pave all the roads we use to make our lives easier. I invited them to refer to the sheer numbers of Dirt Roads in one of my previous posts, take an economics course, and get back to me on that. When I started this series, the romantic in me liked the idea of blogging about Dirt Roads. And the farmer in me knew they were an important part of the food production cycle in the US. I've been amazed though, as I started really looking at it, just how much a simple Dirt Road dictates farming as a business, and the food we all eat every day. Think about it next time you drive down the highway and are tempted to pass by a Dirt Road without giving is any notice. Consider the food that may have traveled that road to bring you a meal, and the logistics that were required to use that road. And don't be afraid to share that road's story with a friend or neighbor. We're all more connected than we think...through our food, and yep, you guessed it,... little Dirt Roads! I'll see you soon on The Farm (and on a Dirt Road)! -Shauna