Flat storage for corn extends capacity at locations like Mitchellville, Iowa and Traer, Kansas

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Flat storage at Traer, Kan., for farm equipment, and an unused elevator.

During the heyday of elevator building, no sooner did an elevator go up, than it filled up, and left a town wanting for storage. The first option was to add an annex. But where economics dictated, cooperatives resorted to the simple expedient of horizontal storage. In the Farmers Elevator Guide during the 1940s and 1950s, between the slick ads for elevator builders, companies advertized Quonset-style buildings for flat storage.

A common sight in Nebraska and Kansas are long, flat piles of corn covered in tarps held down with old tires. At one grain facility, I saw a front-end loader filling grain trucks from one end of one of these great corn piles. At another, workmen were hurriedly applying tarp and tires in advance of a rainstorm. It seems the demand for ethanol has once again ramped up corn demand beyond the capacity of vertical storage facilities, or at least the ability to pay for them.

Mitchellville, Iowa: the Heartland Co-op elevator with the former feed mill and dryer. One of the two old flat-storage buildings for corn is in the foreground.

At two of the sites I recently visited, where the Tillotson-built elevators became insufficient for their purpose within a few years, I saw examples of  corrugated-style flat-storage buildings that were added after the original elevators were filled to capacity. These  served during a brief stretch of time until replaced by more modern, efficient bins, when the buildings found other uses. They were well suited for many farm needs since they could house virtually anything and were built to endure, once their corn storage days ended.

Mitchellville, Iowa, a site where an elevator built by Tillotson Construction of Omaha operates, has two such buildings.  They look like ordinary metal buildings, but the tip-off to their special use is the ladder leading to an opening in the roof where the auger operates. Both buildings have new jobs since the large annex additions were built beside the old elevator–one is a machine tool shed, and the other handles seed.

Idaho corn stored under a tarp is loaded onto grain truck.