How to Optimize Your Farm Shop

Learn how to optimize your current shop, or build a better one. Don't just make do, make it work for you. ( Lindsey Pound )

After years of planning, sketching, discussing and finally quoting prices, Dennis Ivers and his family finally built their “dream” shop. The third-generation corn and soybean farmer and his brother had ‘made do’ with the old shop long enough and four years ago built new.

They built their newest building four years ago and it is 81’ X 200’ with the largest door hitting 20’ X 40’. One half includes five bay doors that lead to a large concrete pad where they park semis that can easily drive in over pits for repairs. It features epoxy floors to avoid oil stains, a 5-ton crane, hidden tie downs near the crane to straighten tools, in-floor heat, a railroad iron, a loft for storage and an L-shaped work bench that measures 45’ on one side and 20’ on the other. In addition, the office is attached to the side of the main shop at 30’ X 40’ with four workspaces, two bathrooms and a conference area.

“It our dream for a shop and it’s just so nice to work in,” Ivers says. “We’ve talked about what we would change but I really can’t think of anything.”

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As the iconic bright red barns of yesteryear decay and fade, many farmers are upgrading their storage to fit the larger equipment of modern times. It’s time for the modern machine shed to shine and take its place in America’s history by increasing farmer efficiency.

“A lot of people are taking advantage of building, or expanding, their own shops,” says Alex Carey who builds American Building Company products. “Look at machinery shop rates, they’re so high it’s often cheaper to hire a mechanic or do it yourself in a good place to work.”

For other farmers, maybe it’s having a place to safely store equipment, including a kitchen to provide a place for family gatherings or employee meetings and others still are looking for a place outside of harsh winter and summer weather where they can work. Whatever the need, there are many ways you can expand shops, increase efficiencies or build the best shop to fit your operation.

What’s the building’s job?

Just like the tractor you buy will differ based on its end use, the building you build or enhance needs to fit the end goal. For row crop farmers you’re likely looking at a building that either stores equipment, provides a place to work on equipment or can be an office—and their price point and features need to be fitted to those purposes.

“Storage and maintenance shops are going to be different—you probably don’t need heat in a storage shop,” says David Luff, Butler dealer from in west-central Missouri. “If it’s a maintenance shed, you’ll want to insulate it, consider a heated floor, have better lighting and so on.”

An office will need insulation in the walls and ceiling, air conditioning and heating—not to mention bathrooms and probably a few more interior walls than you’ll see in a typical storage or machine shop. Storage shed you’ll need to be especially mindful of building height, width and door openings.

Where’s it located?

You can’t help what you inherit, but can you make it more efficient?

“We have four locations, but the biggest part is all in one spot,” Ivers says. “You have to have the logistics nailed down and it takes a lot of planning. In the winter, we’ll take grain wagons and other things we won’t use until the next fall to our farthest location for storage. And we try not to keep anything we use more often, like a backhoe, away from the main hub.”

If you’re building, think about where you have a central location for all of your needs, if you’re making the most of your current setup, consider how you can be intentional about the purpose of each building.

“The problem I’ve run into is I have buildings at my dad’s old farm, and I have sheds at my farm—I have to bounce back and forth,” says Doug Lindstrom, cereal and oilseeds farmer in central Alberta. “It’s a challenge during spring and harvest but you do spread your risk if a snow or rain event comes through.”

If you set aside a purpose for each site, you might be able to avoid lost tools, excessive back-and-forth driving and other frustrations. However, insurance companies see risk management in spreading out buildings—in addition, they also recommend not keeping all of the expensive equipment in one building and instead putting it into a couple smaller shelters.

Building basics

Whether you’re erecting a new shop or adding onto an old one, there are a few things you need to consider.

"We know from history that new equipment isn’t getting any smaller, so one of the challenges of building is estimating what size you need today and what will work for the foreseeable future,” says Dan Nyberg, Morton Buildings training manager. “It includes thinking about what is the transition plan for the farm.”

Here are a few tips from Luff, Nyberg, Carey and Lindstrom:

  • Consider a staging area. It’s an extension of concrete or gravel pad out from the shop that you can park equipment while it waits to get in the shop. Nyberg recommends the staging area is at least as wide as the shop.
  • Create the floorplan well in advance. You might have some last-minute changes, but things like a kitchen, bathroom and other major plumbing or electric additions should be made ahead of pouring the floor, says Luff.
  • Adjust the roof ahead of adding solar panels. Solar panels need a steeper pitch than some steel buildings typically produce, so you’ll need to have that discussion with an engineer before assuming you can add them later, Carey says.
  • Measure your machines. If you want to fit every piece of equipment through the doors, whether it’s for storage or maintenance, you’ll need to make sure you pick a wide enough door. Consider, too, if you prefer bringing heads in on combines or if you’re ok with a narrower door that you bring the pieces in separate.
  • Weigh door options. “It’s better to spend a little more money on doors—I went cheap and wish I hadn’t,” Lindstrom says. Bifolds lift slower but have less maintenance, overhead doors are good for lifting and lowering a lot, but you lose headroom and slide doors are cost effective but can freeze or get trash in the tracks, he adds.
  • Think ahead. Your farm will likely change in the life of the building you put up and it means you need to pay attention to the flow of traffic around the building, space to add on or add additional buildings and so on when the farm inevitably evolves, Nyberg says.
  • Ready the building for additions. Some companies offer expandable buildings. What that means is instead of putting a half load frame at the end of the building, it’s a full frame so you can easily remove panels and the wall to expand. It’s a little more expensive to do that upfront, but much cheaper if you do add on later, Luff says.

There are often financing options or step-plans that can help spread out the cost of a new building. For example, you could erect the building and add the concrete—about 1/3 of the cost—later, Carey adds. Talk with your supplier to see if you can build in steps.

Farm shops are the hub of many operations—is yours as efficient as it can be. Talk with your team to figure out the best configuration for your situation, whether it’s building, adding on or reworking your current set up, make a game plan for success.

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