Investing In Storage
Dealers have lots of choices these days when they update tanks and containment — but improvements don't always come cheap.
September 11, 2008
The surge in tank and containment purchases — felt some 10 to 15 years ago — is being revisited as facilities age, say manufacturers. "We've had no slowdown in sales over the entire last year," says Gene Good, sales manager at Mid-State Tank Co.
But how long the boom lasts may depend a great deal on ever-volatile stainless steel prices.
State Of Stainless
Indeed, prices on some bins may greatly increase in the next year because 316 stainless prices have increased upwards of 50% in the last three months, says Darryn Thiessen, director of sales and marketing, Friesen, USA. His firm makes a wide range of bulk storage tanks and seed tenders. "We know some guys just aren't going to buy tanks because of the cost," admits Good.
The good news is that many fertilizer tanks are made of mild steel (also called carbon steel), which has seen more stable prices. Don Bradley, director of sales and marketing at Murray Equipment, explains that mild steel doesn't contain the chromium and nickel that stainless does — and that these two elements account for the higher price tag.
Mid-State Tank sticks strictly with stainless for its tanks, made for sprayer/applicator manufacturers, chemical companies, and dealers. Good recommends steel because it's very durable and cleans out easily. He has found that customers are buying the tanks because they need more equipment — not only that units are wearing out.
Ron Lager, sales manager at Precision Tank & Equipment, would agree: "Larger nurse tanks are becoming more common as dealers are becoming more efficient, moving larger amounts of products to larger, more efficient application equipment."
Managing those higher capacities of with as few people as possible is where Murray Equipment's controls can help, says Bradley. A more recent offering is the company's tank level indicator — wired into a control box — that can trigger an alarm and dial up facility personnel when product reaches undesired levels.
Murray is also working on an overflow alarm for a soil fumigant product. The alarm will even close valves if needed.
Murray sells a wide range of tanks, pumps, meters, and valves. Bradley says dealers can take advantage of manufacturers' expertise to help select an item for a certain job. "Ask for assistance," he encourages. "With the hazardous materials we're dealing with, there's no room for error."
Dennis Neal, president of Enviropac, Inc. , supplier of fiberglass storage tanks, reports sales have been "brisk." "Dealers are adding to the amount of storage they have on-site because of the cost of fertilizer — and they like the control of having product in hand. But they're also replacing old tanks," he explains. He points out that many of today's 28% and 32% fertilizers are being imported and contain contaminants that can promote corrosion of mild steel.
The good news, he says, is Enviro-Coat, a tank additive that floats on the surface of the fertilizer solution, penetrating rust and corrosion and removing moisture. It provides protection for exposed steel, especially at the air-liquid interface.
Enviropac offers small test kits so customers can see just how a coated piece of steel would react in their own tanks. By offering Enviro-Coat, Neal says his company can build relationships with dealers until they need to buy new tanks, perhaps fiberglass ones.
He says price is a major factor to consider: "Fiberglass gives the storage capabilities of 316 stainless steel without the high price." He adds that dealers should consider the cost of maintaining metal tanks — in the form of repainting and replacing them. And with fiberglass, customers do not need to worry about rust inside a tank that can plug screens, strainers, and tips.
Retrofits are becoming more prevalent, says Ken Hunter, president, Hunter Agri-Sales. The company sells plia-liners, made of polypropylene, to lay inside existing dikes. Its products — which offer a 20-year weathering warranty — come at a fraction of the cost of rebuilding concrete.
Hunter says the plia-liners are tough and ultraviolet-resistant, so dealers don't need gravel or stone to cover them. That makes clean-up a lot easier in the event of a spill, as staff would need to discard or wash any tainted rock.
Hunter's latest products are plia drain pads to place under fertilizer tanks. Here again, no gravel is needed.
Coatings are another choice dealers have for restoring containment. Precision Laboratories has developed formulas specifically for the ag market that "are resistant to nature, fertilizer, and pesticides," says Reiss. "We take a consultant approach to visit and see what customers are doing at their facilities — then recommend a solution. Sometimes the concrete has deteriorated to the point where we have to say a jackhammer is the best solution."
Precision Labs' AGmaster line includes a sealer, primer, and topcoat combination from which Reiss says customers can get 70 years of longevity. "We encourage dealers to see the coatings as an investment. Some paints only last one or two years — they chalk and don't show well. Customers need to think of the labor and frequency involved in using them." AGmaster products can also be used on storage tanks and anhydrous tanks, wagons, and toolbars.
Super Seed Bins
Bulk storage has been extending beyond crop inputs such as fertilizer to seeds themselves. Steel seed bins from Friesen USA debuted some 17 years ago, but the design has really taken off in the past few years, says Thiessen. He adds that seed companies are coming up with more internal programs to make bulk seed facilities more attractive for retailers to invest in.
Thiessen points out that greater volumes of quickly and easily accessible seed make for happier grower-customers. And, the steel bins are good for the seeds themselves. Thiessen says they have smooth walls so seed doesn't get trapped, and no outside contamination can get in. The seed ladder that helps dispense product is gentle as well.
"Bulk bins are becoming the premier way of handling seed, and they'll separate the main players from other dealerships in the next number of years," he predicts.