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A New Benchmark for Grain Elevators

Rising out of south-central Wisconsin, Landmark’s Fall River grain terminal can match the industry’s best

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Among the corn-covered hills of central Wisconsin looms a testament to the future of Wisconsin agriculture and grain handling as a whole. Though known for its inclement weather and dairy production, according to the USDA’s Crop Production Summary for 2013, Wisconsin was ninth in corn production and 15th in soybean production, despite having a wet harvest season. Looking at what the members of Landmark Services Cooperative needed now, and looking forward to what they will need in the future, the co-op built a new grain facility in Fall River, WI, to give them plenty of speed, space and markets — everything a farmer needs to grow.
Picking a new site
There is a long list of factors to consider when choosing the location for a new facility: space needed, available land, transportation access, local originations, competing businesses and the hundreds of other small things that can hinder the progress of a project.
“We looked at several different locations when trying to determine the best site for this facility,” explained Douglas Cropp, executive vice president – grain division. “Given the amount of land needed for a loop track next to a railroad, the number of available locations was limited in our trade territory.”
Though they considered multiple spots, Fall River, WI, stood out.
“This site became an obvious choice [because of] the proximity to the state highway system for easy truck access, [its location] on a double mainline track of the class I CP Railroad and the excellent grain production in the area,” Cropp said.
Once a spot was chosen for the new grain elevator, Landmark chose McCormick Construction Company, Inc. as the main contractor for the $6.5 million site — a relationship that worked out well for the new facility.
“McCormick has been great to work with,” Meghan Neuman, location manager, said. “Through planning to the completion of the facility they’ve been helpful and supportive.”
Speedy receiving
At the new facility, in most cases, a driver pulls up to the first receiving station and doesn’t have to do anything but align with the grain probe. As the probe system from Gamet takes the sample, a CompuWeigh Smart Truck system guides the driver through the process, lets them know when to stop, scans their RFID tag, and lets them know when to pull forward. During harvest, the RFID system proved its worth, keeping lines to an almost nonexistent level, and time from weigh in to weigh out minimal.
“During harvest, our average truck time was around six to seven minutes from when they pulled up to get probed to when they were scaled to leave,” said Neuman. “But we’re capable of going faster; the shortest time I’ve seen a truck get through the facility was in three minutes.”
As the facility opened, and prepared itself to start taking in grain with the 2014 harvest, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags were given out to members that correspond to their account. The only thing a farmer needs to log a shipment with the facility is that RFID tag on the dashboard. The tags give the co-op a quick, automatic and safe way to read and log trucks’ information, keeping up with Landmark’s goal to have its members spend as little time at the elevator, and as much back in the field as possible.
“We had a good response from our members,” Neuman said. “The only time we had lines was when we had a simple glitch, but unlike an older facility where a glitch will have you backed up for a day, we were able to get caught up again in a half hour.”
These systems also help keep track of the filing and record keeping by automatically entering information into the facility records. By doing this, RFID tags cut down on the chance for human error and free up staff during harvest — the busiest time of the year.
Weighing in
After a truck gets probed and its RFID tag is read, it continues past two mammoth 1.5-million-bushel center drawn ground piles from LeMar onto a scale by C&A Scales. Laser photo “eyes” count the number of axles as the truck drives on, and makes sure the entire truck is in position before weighing it. Once more, a message board gives the driver instructions.
As drivers continue forward, they pass six 40-foot-diameter, 135-foot-tall concrete silos capable of storing a combined 862,993 bushels, and move into one of the three truck pits.
Truck pits
Truck pits 1 and 2 can both take in grain at 20,000 bushels/hour, giving them a two-minute 42-second unload time. The third pit is for loading outbound grain. A retractable load-out spout from SLY, Inc. is used in conjunction with Schlagel drag conveyors to fill trucks in three minutes 26 seconds at 15,000 bushels/hour. Keeping with Landmark’s philosophy of building with the future in mind, the third receiving bay can be retrofitted with another dump pit if the need arrives.
Weighing out
Leaving the dump pits, drivers pass by a massive Zimmerman 10,000-bushel/hour dryer standing next to a Brock 75,000-bushel steel bin. In all, total storage for the elevator is at an impressive 4.65 million bushels. On its way out, the truck stops one more time at the exit scale. Like the entrance scale, it’s equipped with laser photo eyes and a message board. Once the truck is weighed, and a ticket is printed, the truck and driver are free to get back to the field.
When the Fall River Facility opened in late August 2014, it was starting with a completely new staff. Though there were hiccups, the facility did remarkably well this fall and received glowing reviews from its members, praising the speed and ease of use.
“We were able to fill all of our space and only had one hiccup in the harvest season with a mid-November snowfall,” Cropp said. “Overall we are quite pleased with how the harvest went.”
Neuman added “We’ve had a lot of account referrals because of our speed and service. It’s great to have that extra support from our producers.”

Drones: A Shared Opportunity

Though steeped in controversy, there is little doubt that the personal drone market is on its way. Anyone can purchase an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has yet to make a nationwide rule regulating them, making the rules and legalities of flying them complicated. Even when the FAA does finalize the rules, it looks like a pilot’s license will be required to fly one.

That combined with the expense of purchasing one (anywhere from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars), the equipment needed to use it for field scouting and the ability to analyze and use the information that is gathered may put this breakthrough technology out of the reach of some farmers.

At the grand opening of Landmark Services Cooperative’s Fall River, WI, facility, members eagerly watched as pilots put small UAVs through their paces. More than a simple demonstration, this was a showcase of an innovative offering that may become more common around the country. By teaming up with local agronomy departments or companies who specialize in UAVs, cooperatives and possibly even commercial grain elevators can offer a mutually beneficial deal to their customers.

By having drones scout their fields, producers will be able to see problem spots in their crops, including things like soil erosion, crop disease, under fertilization, and weather damage — hopefully in time to be able to prevent serious damage or the loss of the crop completely. Grain elevators and cooperatives will get valuable information on how the crop is doing in the surrounding area and make better estimates about how large the harvest will be.

No one is quite sure what drone regulations will eventually be, but it may become the perfect chance for producers and their local elevator to form a mutually beneficial partnership, one where both sides share the costs and reap the rewards.

CP Railroad Partners with Landmark

Landmark Services Cooperative expects to receive between 15 to 25 million bushels annually at the Fall River facility. But with only 4.65 million bushels of storage, the turnaround has to be very quick in order to keep the grain flowing. That is why one of the driving factors behind the selection of Fall River, WI, was the presence of a double mainline track of the class I Canadian Pacific Railroad. This line is the first CP railroad connected to a Landmark facility.

“We look at our relationship as a growing partnership,” explained Cropp. “We continue to work together to find the best markets to bring value to both of our companies.”

The Fall River facility’s loop track holds up to 125 railcars with the ability to load out at 80,000 bushels/hour and receive 20,000 bushels/hour. The rail load-out spout can be moved up, down and side to side making the connection to the railcar quick and easy to make. It is controlled in the scale house in a small alcove that sits almost directly above the train and offers an 180-degree view of the loading and unloading process.

“That spout is not standard,” Neuman explained. “It was something we had designed for our Evansville, WI, location and modified a bit for this location. It makes such a difference; we can keep the power on the cars at about half a mile an hour and just fill it as it moves along.”
This flexibility proved itself during harvest, where the crew at the facility was able to load 100-car trains in less than eight hours, something Neuman thinks they can do even better.

“We can load 3,800 bushels into a railcar with an accurate weight and grade in just less than three minutes,” Cropp said.

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