Some farmyard items are so commonplace, they become almost invisible and chief among them has to be the auger. Common as dirt, and just as important, it’s virtually impossible to function as a farmer without one.
Augers do one thing and do it well — move stuff from point A to point B. And yet, this humble tool has been asked to do increasingly more by farmers growing higher-yielding varieties on bigger farms. While the basic design has not changed in forever, many small innovations over the years have slowly turned augers from a simple but vital tool into a smart device that continues to make seeding and harvest less burdensome.
Sid Lockhart, marketing manager for Meridian in Camrose, AB, says augers continue to prove their worth and outlines what famers should look at when buying one, how to maintain them for long life and why you don’t need to break the bank to successfully bin a crop.
WHAT DO YOU REALLY NEED?
First and foremost, bigger is not always better, warns Lockhart. Your auger has to reach the bins, yes. But, beyond that, be realistic — especially when claims of augers exceeding 20,000 bushels per hour are floating around.
“Logistically, it’s near impossible to get 20,000 bushels per hour,” he says. “That’s 10 Super-B truck loads in 60 minutes. That’s less than six minutes to manoeuvre, position and unload. There are augers out there that meet those needs … however, that feature may not mean much to a 1,500-acre farmer.”
These days, augers are longer, and pricier than ever. A farmer can spend $120,000 or more on a brand-new auger, but of course, those usually come with the latest offerings, including top-end lighting packages, bin monitoring alarms for safe filling and more. All those bells and whistles can be enticing, so if you’re in the market for a new auger, think about what you actually need before reading the brochures.
Lockhart believes auger life should be measured in bushels conveyed, not years of service. “When you start putting through one, two, three million bushels, you’re going to have, at the very least, some flighting wear,” he says, noting that many farmers are now augering fertilizer, too, which is twice as abrasive as seed.
In fact, putting fertilizer regularly through an auger is going to degrade it faster than field crops. And even though an auger with a higher bushel per hour rating will last longer, fertilizer is still going to wear it out sooner. “Then it becomes about trying to figure out the practical amount you want to spend on a unit that does have a limited life.”
Lockhart reminds farmers to keep a close eye on flighting, advising them to consider what the real difference is between spending $80,000 or $50,000 on an auger if flighting damage occurs. “They both break down the same way,” he says.
BE READY TO REPAIR
Breakdowns mean parts, which is not something to take for granted these days. Lockhart says farmers would be wise to have a basic set of backup parts on hand because having to stop work while you wait for parts can be costly.
It makes sense to have PTO sheer bolts, a chain for the hopper and boot, bearings and replacement belts ready to go. Larger ticket items, such as hydraulic components, special cabling for retractable swing arms, valve blocks and other sensitive parts have been greatly delayed because of supply chain issues, which is something to be aware of.
THE FUTURE OF AUGERS
The newest innovation in auger technology is battery power. It’s a response to the fact that more regions around the world are banning fossil fuel-powered machinery in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At Meridian, Lockhart is excited for battery operated conveyor options that will be available to farmers in 2023. Results so far are impressive, he says.
The company’s 30 horsepower battery pack, “The Volt,” runs at the highest setting for more than two continuous hours. During one trial, the company did a straight swap of the gas-powered engine for the battery pack and augered more than one million pounds of hemp.
“It ran really, really well,” says Lockhart. “Everyone was just tickled pink. It was literally plug and play. When you turn it on, the first comment is, ‘this is so much quieter than a gas engine.'”
Colin Huseby augers about 350,000 bushels of grains and oilseeds every fall on his farm at Bawlf, AB. His auger of choice has wheel steer on the axle which makes it easy to place on his tight bin site.
Colin Huseby, a grain and canola farmer at Bawlf, AB, says augers are a have-to-have tool, although which one you have depends on what you do with it. In Huseby’s case, he augers about 350,000 bushels of grains and oilseeds during the fall push at Huseby Triple H Farms where he works alongside his two sons, brother and nephew.
During harvest, one super-B is typically sufficient since the main crops they grow are canola and wheat, which don’t necessarily carry massive yields like barley or oats. If the situation warrants, he can pull out their second super-B.
One of his biggest joys with auger tech has been the innovation of the swing auger, made popular by Alberta manufacturer Rodono Industries. Add onto that a retractable telescopic arm, and Huseby says it’s almost impossible to not drive up to the perfect location when preparing to auger.
Similarly, when getting ready to drive away, the arm simply pulls back, making for a seamless operation. Huseby says the system works equally well on tridem and Super-B trucks.
This setup works great at one of his bin yards which, he says, is a little tighter in weird spots. “We have wheel steer on the axle so it’s easier to manoeuvre in the bin yard site. Steer wheels are a huge plus on that auger.”
He last purchased an auger in 2018 — a 105 ft. long machine for $65,000. For him, the value is clear. “I love how it works and operates,” he says. “There’s no sagging; some augers have a big sag, they don’t have enough structural support.” That same auger retails today for about $115,000.
While he understands the inflationary pressures on auger pricing, one thing Huseby would like to see is a greater array of options or add-ons. “Since these augers have got such high prices I want even more features put in,” he says. “If I’m convincing myself to pay that high price, I want more, even if it’s an option to buy. I want the manufacturer to have a super high end, optioned-out product. Then I can pick and choose.”
He has some thoughts on what he’d like to see. “Even easier clean out capabilities, more doors to clean out grain or maybe even a compressor with air nozzles in certain spots,” he says, adding that a visual aid would be a great addition. He purchased an aftermarket camera, attached it to the auger himself and has a monitor in his tractor to watch and make sure it’s lined up properly and flowing well.
Lockhart understands the sentiment, but also reminds farmers to be honest about their needs, and that means two things — what can they reasonably do in an hour and how much do they want to spend. He says while some customers trade in and buy new every year, that isn’t necessary so long as your expectations are in line.
“Imagine, realistically, how many loads do we need to push through an hour?” he says. “If I can unload in 10 minutes, is that fast enough? Twelve? Thirteen? Is that good? Usually, a farmer says yes. That’s a lot of auger and all of a sudden that’s below $50,000.”
DON’T FORGET CONVEYORS!
Conveyors are popping up at more and more operations and certain farmers see them as a viable replacement for augers. However, conveyers need just as much TLC as augers, but in different ways.Meridian’s Sid Lockhart says that flashing is commonly overlooked on belt conveyers. A wide diameter seems impressive, and the smell of a new rubber belt is great, but ultimately means nothing if the flashing isn’t airtight.
He says poor flashing has led farmers to believe they have a wrecked belt, but what they truly have is seed getting underneath the flashing where it can quickly build up and create a bubble. It doesn’t take long, and it can shut you down at harvest.
For canola growers, consider an oilseed certified conveyer, especially if it’s seed grain versus canola destined for crush. “You can put whatever belt you want on there,” says Lockhart, “It could be 100 per cent resistant to oil, but if the canola seed is not on top of your belt, you will have problems. It will build up underneath and begin to collect in minutes.” —Trevor Bacque