UGS hired SM Associates Construction LLC to build the shuttle loading facility; Van Sickel, Allen & Associates (VAA) provided the structural engineering. Ground was broken on the greenfield site in September of 2011, and it opened for business just in time for the 2012 harvest.
Workflow at the facility
Trucks approaching the facility enter the scale house at the inbound Lake Country scale. USG uses an automated oneWeigh card reader system by Cultura Technologies to scan the card, which records customer and truck information, and generates a scale ticket. Once this information is gathered, the load is probed by an Intersystems Super Truck Probe and a grain sample is delivered to the office for grading. Meanwhile, as the truck is being staged off the scale, the operator is processing the next truck in the queue, maintaining a constant flow of vehicles.
After the grain is graded, the truck is sent to one of three receiving pits utilizing three Schlagel Inc. 20,000-bushel/hour drag conveyors.
Once a truck arrives at the correct pit, an operator in the control room assigns the grain to the proper location; the grain is dumped and elevated by a Schlagel bucket elevator, clearing the pit for the next truck.
The empty truck circles around to the outbound scale; uses the card to scan out as an end weight is captured; and a ticket is automatically generated without the customer ever having to enter the office.
“It’s about speed, space and velocity to move grain — that’s a key draw at harvest time,” Nielsen explains.
The average ticket time from punch in, dump and punch out is somewhere around five minutes; it can easily handle 500 trucks a day.
“It’s pretty unusual to have your patrons thank you for doing it right,” he adds.
No shortage of storage
UGS, a combination of the Brownton shuttle facility and five country elevators located in a spoke-like fashion in proximity to the terminal, offers a storage capacity of over 15 million bushels.
The Brownton facility itself boasts 7 million bushels of on-hand storage capacity, including piles: a 2.8 million upright storage comprised of 550,000-bushel slip concrete work house with 420,000-bushel bins and nine interstice bins in between; 1.5 million pile with reclaim capabilities; and a 3-million-bushel traditional pile that is mechanically filled and tarped. In addition two GSI 550,000-bushel steel bins sit on either side of the central facility.
The site uses 50,000-bushel/hour Hi-Roller reclaim belt conveyors to transport grain to the center receiving area.
Favorable rail shifts
UGS has the ability to load 110-car shuttle trains connected to the Twin Cities Western (TCW) Railroad short line, accessing the Union Pacific (UP), Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railroads.
Shuttles coming into the facility can be loaded in 7 to 7.5 hours with 440,000 bushels of grain. Faced with growing pains, the first train took 16 hours, but by the third train, the UGS team was able to load it in a little over 6.5 hours.
“During harvest, the shuttle loading capability allowed UGS to turn bins and open space to keep customer trucks coming,” Nielsen says.
As Wilson’s study suggested, UGS has witnessed a shift in the demand for grain as more trains are heading to the feed lots of Hertford, TX, or to the dairies in Stockton, CA, over the ports of the Pacific Northwest.
“At first we said, ‘Yeah right, our grain is going to the PNW,’” Nielsen recounts. “But Wilson was right; so far eight out of 10 corn trains have gone to Texas and California. Nowadays it’s where the grain and the demand naturally flows.”
A successful investment
While the less-than-ideal weather of the 2012 growing season— specifically hail and drought —presented a mixed bag of haves and have nots at harvest, UGS exceeded even the best of expectations right off the bat.
According to Nielsen, UGS has received more grain in the first four months of operation than UFC dumped in the entire 12 months prior. It has also added 460 new patron accounts.
“We’ve been extremely pleased with the response to the facility,” Nielsen says. “We’re doing business with producers who have never done business with our cooperative before — and we’ve been here since 1916.”