5 June 1998

Better grain logistics

Once the combines beacon starts to flash, it is time

to get the trailer into place and start shifting grain.

Peter Hill starts this special with a look at the logistics

of getting grain back to the store

LOGISTICS. Its a term increasingly used instead of plain "haulage" by companies involved in the distribution of goods to more accurately describe their activities. In farming, its becoming a more appropriate term for the process of moving the yield of grain and seed crops from field to barn.

The process is being made more complex by the increasingly scattered nature of many arable farming enterprises, as a result of land being bought or managed that lies some distance from the home unit. As distances increase or pockets of land become more numerous, with routes more tortuous, the task of moving crops becomes more of a challenge if it is to be achieved economically and safely.

Increased combine output and growing crop yields impose their own strains on established systems; as does the imperative to make the most of available combining capacity as growers seek to handle the harvest with fewer, bigger machines.

Soil compaction, too, must be a consideration – and one that raises a conflict between protecting the soil and optimising combine capacity. Unloading directly from the combine into a trailer parked on the headland is clearly the best way of keeping heavily-laden trailers – one of the very worst culprits among compaction causing machinery – off the main cropping area.

But a combine is bought for cutting crops, not standing idle while emptying its umpteen-thousand litre grain tank. And standing idle, evenly briefly, seriously damages a high capacity combines output potential which, taken over several weeks, has a significant impact on seasonal capacity.

It is largely for this reason that a number of growers are looking to shuttle trailer systems, using a modest capacity, big tyred high-lift trailer, or specially equipped auger-emptying design, to bridge the gap between the combine and a heavy-weight capacity farm or road trailer kept to the headland or – better still – to a hard-standing off the field altogether.

This approach involves extra investment in equipment that has limited use at other times of the year (though both high-lift and auger trailers make handy drill-fillers) and will most likely be taken up initially by growers with off-lying land needing road trucks to bring in grain at a sensible pace.

Where a more conventional system must remain, improving efficiency to keep pace with combine output has to be the name of the game. Bigger trailers help, as long as there are tractors available big enough to handle them effectively and safely, and bulk does not make them unwieldy in a tight yard.

Indeed, having sufficient intake pit capacity to allow trailers to dump in one go, as well as easy pit access and automated trailer tailgates can all contribute to rapid turn-arounds that help the field-to-barn process flow that much more smoothly and productively.

Field-to-store grain haulage systems

System: Conventional tractor and two, 8-10t capacity trailers filled at headland.

Characteristics: One man/one tractor economy and minimal trailer soil compaction. But hard work for the driver, compromises combine output and suited only to short haulage distances.

System: Two or three conventional tractors with 8-10t capacity trailers filled on the move.

Characteristics: Costlier in men and tractors and imposes widespread soil compaction. But keeps the combine working and capable of shifting lots of grain over short to medium haulage distances.

System: Two or three fast tractors with 10-12t capacity trailers filled on the move.

Characteristics: As above but capable of keeping up over much longer distances.

System: One road truck with two 24-30t capacity road trailers filled at the headland.

Characteristics: Suited to long haul distances and keeps heavy-weight trailers off main cropping area. But compromises combine capacity.

System: Two or three conventional tractors with 8-10t capacity trailers filled on the move, tipping to hard-standing. One road truck with two, 24-30t capacity road trailers filled by telehandler/loading shovel from hard-standing.

Characteristics: As above but keeps the combine going. Widespread soil compaction and involves costly rehandling. Questionable practice for assured crops.

System: Conventional or high speed tractor with 10-15t capacity high-lift or auger shuttle trailer on low ground pressure tyres or tracks. Filled on the move and feeding big capacity road or field trailer at headland or hard-standing.

Characteristics: Keeps the combine going and limits soil compaction (though not as much as headland unloading direct from the combine). Investment in trailer of limited alternative use.

Additional factors

Soil compaction: Fit flotation tractor and trailer tyres, or use high-lift, or auger shuttle trailers to feed bigger capacity road, or field trailers kept on headlands or (preferably) hard standing.

Use road trucks: For longer haulage distances, fed by shuttle trailer.

Use fast tractors: To cut field-to-store journey times over short to medium haulage distances.

Safety: Drivers under pressure, having to drive fast with big loads, are more exposed to accident risks.

Reception pit capacity: Increase capacity (and out-take rate if necessary) to allow quick dumping of big trailer loads for faster turn-arounds.

Crop recording: Drive-on/drive-off weigh-bridge access and automated recording speeds up trailer turn-arounds.

Trailer design: Capacity to suit available tractors, stable with good braking system, big section tyres for flotation, radial tyres for low road wear and minimal puncture down-time, automated tailgate for quick pit turn-arounds.

Crop assurance: Fit quickly deployed roller tarpaulins to minimise standing time.

With combines getting bigger, crops yielding more, land becoming more scattered and growers more conscious of soil compaction, improvements in grain transport efficiency are being sought.

Increasing the capacity of the reception pit to that of the trailer, is one area where the field-to-barn process can be improved.