herman minn elevator

Automation and the spacious three-truck bay helps drivers move through the unloading process quickly. Tags mounted on grain trailers and RFID key cards are used at checkpoints to ensure grain is being delivered to the right dump pit and credited to the correct customer account.

HERMAN, Minn. — The new 1.4 million bushel CHS elevator here is moving toward readying a highly automated testing and delivery system which will make life for farmers and elevator staff a lot less stressful during busy harvest seasons. The new elevator, which completed construction in October 2020 and is receiving grain during the 2021 harvest, is an addition to the 2 million bushels of storage at the original Herman elevator.

Changing conditions in agriculture brought about the need for an elevator expansion in this small west central Minnesota town on the BNSF railroad. “The original elevator in Herman was built during the 1970s when the majority of the crops grown in the area were small grains,” Jerry Kramer, general manager for CHS at Herman, said. “The transition to primarily corn and soybean acres — along with improved seed genetics resulting in increased yields — had a big impact on the need for increased storage capacity. Simultaneously, the increased harvest speed of area farmers and increasing technology made the existing elevator less able to provide the delivery speed and experience our customers expect.”

Now, with the extra capacity from both elevators operating, delivery of grain goes more quickly and CHS says they can receive and store grain more strategically. 

“This new facility adds three additional high-speed dump pits to the two existing pits. Along with the added storage capacity and latest technology, all contribute to being better able to serve our patrons,” Kramer said. “The increase in dump pits, offering three delivery bays, and faster receiving speed at up to 75,000 bushels an hour all work towards creating a more efficient delivery process.”  

Combined, the two CHS elevators in Herman now have five dump pits with receiving capacity over 100,000 bushels per hour.

One of the automated features at the elevator is an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) card which uses a tiny radio transponder on an incoming load to communicate with the elevator.

The RFID card, which is about the size of a credit card, contains information about the customer who is hauling grain — including their personal or business name, truck license number, and number of axles on the truck. 

“This card is an interface with our accounting system and an important part of what allows us to be fully automated throughout our system,” Kramer said. “We do not need one of our employees to enter farmer information, as it’s automatically entered when the card is read.”

Kramer points out that RFID cards are not new to the industry and are used at other grain elevators.

The RFID card, which is attached to the incoming truck, sends its signal identifying the truck and owner. Then an automated grain probe takes a number of samples from the truck and sends them to the office for analysis. Moving forward, the truck is weighed and directed to proceed to an available dump pit. Before dumping, the grain type is automatically verified along with, once again, the truck’s identity. Once the grain is dumped, the truck is weighed and identified a final time.

Kramer says that the automation system evolved with three goals in mind.

“First, this creates a more flexible delivery schedule with our very diverse patron base. Everyone’s schedules are busy, so by providing a broader delivery period, we allow our patrons to be more efficient,” he said. “The second goal is to provide our employees with a better work-life balance. The ability to receive grain without employees always on-site allows greater opportunity for staff to have more flexible scheduling than is currently available in a nights-weekends-holidays industry like agriculture.”

“Safety is a core value and strategic focus of CHS,” Kramer went on to say, “and these automation capabilities continue to evolve a safe working environment, which is our third goal. Grain employees can put in long shifts — such as during train loading and harvest — which can lead to fatigue and increased risk of injury. Automated delivery allows for some needed time off for employees during these peak seasons. That will reduce fatigue and accident risk without slowing or stopping grain deliveries for our customers.”

Although the new and expanded elevator at Herman has been taking grain since October of last year, the fully automated system has not been made available to the public yet.

“The system was in development after the physical structure was finalized,” Kramer said. “It was successfully used during test deliveries in August 2021; but, due to the timing of 2021 harvest and ongoing refinements, the automated delivery system has been used only for internal deliveries using CHS trucks with RFID cards. Once it’s tested by a pilot group of farmers, it is expected to be available for use by area farmers following this year’s harvest.”

Once that happens, farmers and CHS staff at Herman can look forward to even more efficient and less stressful grain handling. 

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