Everything you need to know about Grain Bins (Farmers are Geniuses)

When you eat today, that food going to get to your plate from field like this, and before it gets in that field, it’s going to pass through the hand and the wallet of a farmer, like this. I say wallet because he has to use something, more than likely, called a grain bin. Today on Smarter every day, we’re going to talk about the science, the engineering, the economics, everything that goes into using a grain bin to get food from the field to your plate. Trey, is it a really good thing to have a grain bin? – It is. – Why? – Oh, for logistics, and economics’ sake. It buys you time getting the grain out of the field, and hopefully as the winter goes on, the bases improve, and you can get a higher price for your grain.

Today on Smarter every day, we’re going to talk about all that, by building a grain bin, and then figuring out how they use these things. Let’s go get smarter every day. (guitar riff) These things are everywhere. I’ve always called them silos, but that’s not exactly right. Now, it’s true, these tall skinny ones are silos. They sometimes contain a special type of feed called silage for animals, but these short, fat ones, those aren’t silos.

Those are called grain bins, and I’ve been on a quest to see if I can everything I can know about them. My farmer buddy Trey is also an engineer, who went to Auburn University. We like to talk about mechanical problems he has to solve out on the farm. When he told me he was pouring a huge concrete pad for a grain bin, that he was going to buy, I was intrigued.

The foundation for this thing was 52 yards of concrete, heavily reinforced with steel rebar. And the more I thought about the forces this thing has to put up with, like wind blowing on the side of a huge structure, literally tons of grain on the inside, the scale of this concrete pad started to make more and more sense. Trey explained that these things are sold as a kit, kits that are engineered to be assembled on-site, by an expert crew. If you had a crew of only three people but no crane or tall ladder, how would you build this thing? It’s over 30 feet tall, and weighs several tons. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that there had to be a simple, clever technique that I just didn’t know about.

So, I decided to try to work myself on one of these crews to see what I could learn over several days. So, what do you call that tool? – Punch. – [Destin] Yeah, just using a punch for alignment? – Yeah. – [Destin] What’s your name man? – I’m Danny. – Danny, I’m Destin man, nice to meet you. – Nice to meet you. – [Destin] And what was your name? – Nicholas. – [Destin] Nicholas, nice to meet you, dude. – Pleasure. – [Destin] Do you guys all over the place doing this? – That’s all we do, yeah. – [Destin] Really? The way it’s going to work is you’re gonna build this ring, and then use those jacks to do what? – Drill both them jacks to these sidewall sheets, every other sheet, all the way around, to that center pump down, right there, and we’ll jack them all at the same time. – [Destin] So it’s a hydraulic pump?

And so you just hydraulically jack it all the way around? – The whole thing up, and then we put another ring on, drop our jacks and connect to the next ring, jack it up, and fix the next ring, just keep pushing it up. – [Destin] It was immediately clear that there was a ton of work to do at this job site. So, to earn the trust of the crew, I asked Danny what is it that they did not want to do, and I immediately started doing that. So, I’ve learned if you want to work on a crew, it really helps to do the crap jobs, because once you do that, you kind of establish credibility, and then they’ll let you do some of the bigger stuff.

But right now, I am assembling vents for the top of the roofline. I just started working, and they didn’t make me go away. (upbeat music) Do you know what’s a big deal? Punches. Punches are a big deal because you stick it through one sheet of corrugated metal, and use it as a lever to align that sheet of the metal on the back, and then you align it, and then you can put a bolt-through an adjacent hole. Punches are huge. This is a fascinating engineering marvel. It’s a fascinating process to assemble. And I always thought they’re pretty in a field, with the sunset, and maybe a hay bail or something.

No, I’m going to think about engineering, when I look at these from now on, and I am going to think about punches because punches are the best. At least today, punches are the best. (upbeat music) Okay, we now have a completed grain bin, now it’s time to put grain in it. Trey called me out to the field a few months later, when he was harvesting beans, and when I pulled up, he was offloading his combine into a truck. I asked him if I could jump into the cab with him while he finished the last few rows.

Holy cow, there’s a lot going on here! That’s a lot to look at, dude. – There’s a lot going on. – [Destin] You are mentally engaged this whole time, aren’t you? – Oh, very much so. See that? Instantaneousaverages of how much is in the sieve just now, which is pretty good. – [Destin] Do you love this? – It’s pretty fun. – [Destin] This is very awesome. It seems like this is awesome when it’s working right now, but it looks like there’s a lot of maintenance involved in this. – Oh, there is, there’s a lot of maintenance, and if it breaks, it’s really aggravating. – [Destin] That statement was prophetic because literally 15 seconds later, a shower came out of nowhere and it hit the field we were working on. Now, Trey said we should stop harvesting but he didn’t want me to drive back home without the good footage I wanted, because I’ve been wanting to ride in his combine with him for years.

So, why are you stopping when it’s raining? – Oh no, that’s bad. – [Destin] What happened? – It choked it down. – [Destin] It was at this moment that I learned that something as simple as a 30-second rain shower can lead to huge problems for a farmer. Because the crop got wet, and we didn’t immediately stop harvesting, it choked out the combine, which made me feel a little bit guilty, because I kind of lottery into this situation, but not really, because I got to see something firsthand I’ve often heard about farmers.

When a farmer has a mechanical problem, they don’t wait for help. They know their equipment inside and out, and they wrap a wrench or a tool, and they just start taking things apart and fixing it immediately. It’s very impressive. This is where it’s most impressive to me about farming. When you break it, there nobody to call, is there? – No. – [Destin] I won’t lie, before I came over here I was feeling sorry for myself because my lawnmower was bound up. Sure enough, about 40 minutes of this, Trey and his brother Clay had everything figured out and working again. Anyways, back to the beans. Here’s how Clay was getting the beans into the grain bin.

How long does this take? – About 10 minutes, (murmurs)… – [Destin] 10 minutes, and you’ll get a whole bucket up, I mean a whole truck up there? – Yeah, it might be, but it just depends. – [Destin] So, this truck can hold around 400 bushels of soybeans, some of which got rained on. And the grain bin we built can hold 48000 bushels. So, if we use this auger and we put these wet beans in with the dry beans, how do these wet beans not spoil the whole harvest?

So, one of the most important things that a bin like this can do is dry the grain, is that correct? – That’s right. This fan blows the air and under the plenum, in the bottom of the bin, and then up through the grain. – [Destin] That’s a beast of a fan, can we hear it. – It is, we can. (fan whirring) – [Destin] Dude, that thing’s eating some air, man. – It is. – [Destin] So, Trey mentioned a plenum. Remember that flooring they put in when they were assembling the grain bin? That’s what he’s talking about. It’s got holes in the floor that are just big enough for the fan to blow air through, but not so big that grain falls through it, to the bottom of the grain bin.

That means the entire floor acts like ductwork, to evenly distribute the air through the grain. When the beans are first loaded into the bin, because it’s straight out of the field, the moisture level might be too high to store long-term. Things like mold or fungus could be an issue. In order to increase storage life, the moisture has to be brought down. The fan blows to the bottom of the grain, and then moves up through all of the grain, all the way to the top. As the air passes moist grain, the skin or the shell of the bean gives off some of that water content, and when the air passes it, it raises the humidity of the air. Let’s take a look at one individual bean. The outer skin is permeable, meaning moisture can pass through it.

As long as the moisture level of the air passing by the bean is significantly less than the moisture in the bean, water will exit the bean and drying occurs. As air absorbs more and more water, at some point, it doesn’t want anymore. That air then continues to move up towards the top of the bin, but now it has more water in it. So, something interesting happens. This is essentially what farmers have to deal with. The bottom of the grain bin is going to dry first because that’s where the moisture-to-bean balance ratio is, and the top of the grain is going to dry last. Because the air can only contain so much moisture, there’s going to be a 1-2foot section of the beans that are drying at any one time, and that’s going to start at the bottom and move all the way to the top.

And the farmer has to know when his beans are dry because if he gets it wrong, he starts losing money. So, how do you make money? You sell grain based on, what? – Based on weight. – [Destin] Weight. So it’s not to your advantage to dry the grain out too much because it loses weight. – That’s right. So you dry it for storage, and then you would sample it, and if it’s too dry, you could cut it on, you’ve got high humidity, and add moisture back to it. – [Destin] How do you measure the moisture in the grain, is it just by feel? – With a moisture tester. – [Destin] What, really? You’ve got a gadget? – We’ve got a gadget. – [Destin] All right, let’s look at the gadget. How long does it take to… It’s testing. – These are 11.4. – [Destin] 11.4 percent. How did it do that? – I don’t know how that works. – [Destin] What’s an ideal moisture level? – I think 12, 12 or 12 in a half. I would have to look, I can’t remember. – [Destin] So, if you get paid per weight of the bean, but it’s measured in volume… Trey showed me a little tool called a test weight scale.

You fill it up with beans, and it gives you an idea for the weight of your crop, based on the packing factor. So, as a farmer, are you trying to hit a certain moisture level, and size of the bean, because it’s a trade-off between packing factor? – Bigger beans are better, they make you more yield per acre, more bushels per acre, the bigger the bean. – [Destin] One of Trey’s neighbors is a farmer named Jeff, with a much larger operation, and he happened to be selling soybeans that day. So, we went down to his farm and watched the trucks get loaded up. So, the ultimate reason to have a grain bin is… He’s selling this grain now that it’s at a premium price, right? – Correct. – [Destin] Okay, so this haul18-wheeler, look at this. Did you get a good price?

He said he hoped he got a good price. Because the grain bin was almost empty, Jeff and Trey let us go inside and get a better look at how the mechanic’s work. – One of the sweeps going in there, if you want to film that? – [Destin] Yeah! Holy cow! Trey explained that once the grain falls, due to gravity, there’s an auger that crawls around the floor and pushes the grain towards the center, where another auger that built into the floor can push it out so it can be loaded onto the truck. He also explained that the inside of a grain bin is one of the most dangerous places for farmers. So, you can get down in it, and it can entrap you? – Right, and so you get caught up in that grain, and that wall flats in, and either one, get suffocated, or two, get wrapped up in the auger.

It would be a bad way to go. – [Destin] So, it’s a pretty dangerous place to be. – Right, and so that’s why we’re here, that’s why we don’t walk over there. And, as well, if this bin was full, you wouldn’t want to walk across the top of it, if it had been dried or crusted over, or anything like that, because it can get… It could collapse on you. – [Destin] Like voids in the middle of it? – That happens, and also a lot of the times people will get into these bins when they’re augering this out, they get stopped up, and try to get it unstopped, or something like that. And then it’ll cave in, you’ll get moving grain, and you get sucked in like quicksand. – [Destin] We were able to enter this grain bin because it was almost empty, and we were walking on the floor.

But I’m really glad we could because it gave me a moment to reflect. Grain bins are super important. They’re one of the most important tools for efficient farming, and for the security of our food supply. And, as you know, the key to keeping grain bins like this full, it’s farmers. Farmers are the backbone of America. What I’m learning about farmers, like yourself Jeff, is that you guys are good meteorology, biology, right? Math. You’re good at engineering, and making stuff work in the field. And economics, so you guys have to do everything. – Pretty much. But we may not be good at it, but we have to do some… – [Destin] I’ve noticed every farmer that I say that to– – Accounting. – [Destin] Accounting? Every farmer I say something, they say that immediately after I mention how difficult their job is. They always say, “Yeah, but we ain’t “good at it, blah, blah blah.” Y’all are sandbaggers, is what you are. – Well, you hire people.

I gotta a guy that helps me with my marketing, I got a good accountant, you pay people for their services, that are good, and you try to make the rest of it work out. – [Destin] So you guys are businessmen like no other. There is no other job in America like this, is there? – I don’t know, I stay on a farm. – [Destin] That’s awesome, you guys are good. You all are sandbaggers. I’m convinced that farmers are the smartest people out there, but you like to pretend that you’re not. – We’re not very smart. – [Destin] Whatever. This episode of SmarterEveryday is sponsored by Hello Fresh, a meal kit delivery service, where they send you ingredients to your house, and you just follow a simple 6-step recipe.

And you can make awesome food. I’m going to see how my kids do with this, you ready? – Yes, sir. – Go for it. – Whole garlic cloves. – Do you have any idea how hard it is to grow food? I’ve been trying to grow corns for years, it is a challenging thing. I am thankful for farmers. I’m also thankful for Hello Fresh, who brings the food to my house in ways we can turn into a delicious meal, without doing anything. Think about my kids in there. Ten and 12, they’remaking an awesome meal, just by following a recipe. You can totally do it if they can do it, think that through.

Hello, Fresh is now from 6.99 per serving, and you can get eight free meals in your first month, by going to hellofresh.com, use the promo code smarter80 at checkout. That’s like an $80 value. There are three plans to choose from, and you can switch whenever you want. Seriously, look at this, my kids are like making sauces and stuff, that’s awesome. If you want to try HelloFresh, I totally recommend it, go to hellofresh.com, and use the promo code smarter80 at checkout. Get yourself a discount, and get out of that recipe rut. Start eating interesting things that you make yourself. It’s awesome. All right, I hope you enjoyed this episode of Smarter every day, I hope you appreciate farmers.

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