My Ag Education Continues – A Visit to the Grain Elevator

January 4, 2010

I’ve visited a handful of row-crop farms, talked with dozens of farmers, stood on top of a lock and dam and been to a few farm shows during my short career in agriculture. There’s a lot I still need to do, but I was able to check “visit a grain elevator” off my list.

After visiting a farm, the elevator probably is the next place one should visit to learn about agriculture. In most ag communities, the elevator is the first stop for grain after harvest. The elevator is sort of like the final accounting of what took place in the field. Usually, the farmer has a pretty good idea of his haul and the moisture content of his crop after harvest. The elevator provides the final answer—and the final dollar amount that the farmer will receive for the crop.

During my visit to the Farmer Coop Elevator in St. Peters, Mo., manager Dan Zerr walked me through te process of a farmer delivering grain. I’ve always seen the elevators from a distance driving on Interstate 70 to Kansas City or Interstate 55 to Chicago. Many look impressive against the backdrop of corn, soybean and wheat fields. The Farmers Coop Elevator is a small elevator (180,000 bushel capacity) compared with newer ones, but that doesn’t change how impressive it is when you get an up-close look. I hope you’ll find the accompanying photo essay captures the process of a farmer delivering grain and how an elevator works.

Background on Farmers Coop Elevator:

The Farmers Coop Elevator was founded in 1916. It’s located in St. Peters, Mo, a suburban community approximately 25 miles west of downtown St. Louis. The coop is on the north side of I-70 in the Mississippi River bottom, where most of the farms that the coop serves are located. On the south side of I-70, subdivisions dominate the land. The coop serves most of east central St. Charles County, from St. Peters in the east to the west side of O’Fallon, Mo. It even pulls in a few farmers from the county to the north, Lincoln County.

When a farmer brings his truck to unload grain, the first thing that happens is a weight check. This device gives a reading of the weight of the truck plus the grain in the bed.

Once the weight is established, Braven Dyer, an elevator employee, takes a long tube (about 3-4 feet long) to get a sample of the grain in the truck.

Dyer dumps the grain from the tube into a bucket.

He then measures out 250 grams of corn to be tested for moisture in this machine.

This particular batch tested at 15.8 percent moisture. At that content, the farmer was docked 10 cents per bushel. Elevators like for the grain to be 15 percent. The price of corn at this elevator was $3.54.

After the moisture test, the farmer takes the grain to the unloading point at the elevator. Dyer unlocks the door and 345 bushels of grain funnel into a pit.

Every piece of grain adds up, so Dyer takes a shovel to scrap the truck and ensure every kernel is accounted for.

He even sweeps kernels that jumped the grate.

A conveyor belt runs below the ground, grabbing the grain in these cups.

The belt runs about 75 feet skyward. One belt is for corn, and the other is for beans.

To borrow a line from Elaine in Seinfeld: “Different pipes go to different places!” Once the belt reaches the top, it spills the grain into pipes that flow to grain bins.

The farmer then revisits the weigh station. The elevator takes the weight with the grain and subtracts the truck weight. The difference is the weight of the grain, which is then converted into bushels. The farmer then receives a receipt for the price of the crop.

One Response to “My Ag Education Continues – A Visit to the Grain Elevator”

  1. Nick Says:

    You might be interested in the book by William Brown, “American Colossus: the Grain Elevator, 1843 to 1943” (Colossal Books, 2009). Its on

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