New Ag Retail Facilities: The Importance Of Pre-Planning

To hear industry experts tell it, there’s really no big secret to how ag retailers can put up a brand new facility. As Rob Henderson, sales manager for Waconia Manufacturing, Inc., Waconia, MN, points out, obtaining the necessary paperwork to bring a new plant to life isn’t that difficult. “Getting the permits needed is pretty straightforward,” says Henderson. “Oh sure, there are times when you as the designer or builder of a plant have to modify your requirements some to meet certain regulatory needs, but it’s really not that hard to do this.”

Instead, ag retailers that want to build new facilities need to engage in plenty of pre-planning. “I always tell our clients they need to think ahead,” says Henderson. “Sure, you want a new plant to better serve your customers’ needs. But how many products do you intend to keep and ship out of that location? Do you want bins for micronutrients? Will the plant receive products by rail, truck or both? These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before you start building.”

Steve Anderson, national accounts manager, sales & marketing for Stueve Construction Co., Algona, IA, agrees. “Before we start going over the design of a new facility, I typically sit down with a customer and ask lots and lots of questions,” says Anderson. “What are your peak periods for product deliveries? What kind of design makes the most sense for your products and customer needs? Once we’ve answered these kinds of questions, we can figure out the dynamics of what kind of facility would be best for this location.”

In addition to this level of pre-planning on the part of all parties involved in the creation of a new ag retail facility, Anderson says determining a location where the new structure should be built is also important. “It’s like that popular saying: Location, location, location,” he says. “That’s a big starting point for many customers, especially when they are trying to decide between using railcars or just trucks to accept product shipments and make deliveries to their growers.”

Bigger Is Better

When it comes to the facilities themselves, Anderson says there has definitely been a shift to larger ones in the past few years. “I’ve seen this trend in all areas of the country and business,” he says. For example, back in the early 2000s, a new ag retail facility that wanted to receive its product deliveries via rail would build a plant that could receive 25, 50 or 65 railcars at a time. Now, the norm is for plants that can receive 90, 110 or 130 railcars.

“It’s the same story for plants that receive all of their products via trucks,” says Anderson. “Ten years ago, these outlets would be fine handling 6,000 tons of product. Today, these same kind of facilities are being built with 10,000- or 15,000-ton capacities.”

There has also been plenty of expansion in other areas of the facilities as well. In the early 2000s, a typical newly-built ag retail facility would have alleyways for moving dry fertilizer around that were approximately 20 feet wide. Now, says Anderson, these same alleyways are ranging from 28 to 30 feet wide. “It’s all part of the pre-planning by these ag retailers,” he says. “If they plan to expand their plants at some point in the future, they will want to be able to move more product using bigger equipment. So they need to have wider alleyways as a result.”

Product mix also plays a role in new plant design. For instance, Anderson says that ag retail facilities built by Stueve 10 years ago typically had one or two fertilizer storage bins devoted to more niche, smaller volume items such as micronutrients. Today, however, with more grower-customers regularly using specialized products in their fields, ag retailers have been asking builders to design their fertilizer warehouses “with four to six microbins,” he says.

Besides getting bigger in scope, the new ag retail plants of today also have been much quicker to embrace design aspects that are decidedly more environmentally friendly. For example, says Anderson, new facilities rarely had enclosed loading/unloading bays back in the early 2000s. Today, however, these kind of structures are becoming very commonplace.

“Ag retailers like the fact that these enclosed bays to unload and load products in their trucks in a dry environment,” he says. “In fact, a few of the newer facilities even have enclosed their loading/unloading areas for railcars as well.”

State Differences

Of course, all ag retail facilities aren’t created the same. Many have to deal with a different set of requirements based upon what state they are located in. When it comes to the toughest states to build new facilities in, virtually everyone agrees that California is the toughest “because its requirements for building go on and on.”

However, according to Waconia’s Henderson, there is one Midwestern state that’s no picnic either when it comes to new plant construction. “Ohio can be pretty tough, too,” he says. “It once took our company one year to obtain the necessary permits to build a plant there.”

In contrast, easy states to build a new ag retail facility in would include Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota. “Any state that has a pretty deep background in agriculture is usually very cooperative when it comes to putting up a new ag retail plant in their territory,” says Henderson. “They seem to recognize that this will ultimately be good for the businesses that keep their state economies strong.”

Then there are a few special cases when it comes to plant design on the state level. For instance, when CropLife® magazine visited the Crop Production Services (CPS) facility in Marston, MO, back in 2010, we discovered that plant was built with plenty of earthquake-proof features. As Manager Steve Martin explained, the facility is located not too far from the New Madrid Fault, which experienced the nation’s largest earthquakes back in 1812. “We typically get groundshaking about four or five times per year,” said Martin.

As a result, the CPS Marston plant has features designed to withstand earthquakes. This includes having anchoring systems on its dry blend towers and rodless walls in its dry fertilizer storage building.

Luckily, a more recent disaster hasn’t had much impact on ag retail plant design considerations, says Henderson. Although some experts feared the worst following the explosion of the West Fertilizer plant in West, TX, last year, Texas hasn’t enacted stricter building requirements for new ag retail plants. “We did have one place in the state that wanted us to install a sprinkler system in a new fertilizer warehouse we were building,” says Henderson. “But when I explained to them that concrete and the fertilizer being planned for this facility wouldn’t burn ­— and probably shouldn’t get wet ­­— they stopped asking for this design change.”

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