HAYES - Transit demand, trends toward a rise in crop acreage, better yields and an increase in treated seed use have nudged Al Meier into some big investments in 2014 -seed technology.

Meier farms a large operation near Hayes and owns MPM Certified Seed, in Wessington Springs, with his son and another partner.

In the past year, Meier, 63, his son Kylan, 31, and a landlord have installed a total of 380,000 bushels of additional storage in two locations west and south of Hayes.

“We used to be able to depend on the elevators to receive it and take it out,” Meier says. “Early this spring, we could see the elevators were full from last year, and continued problems moving grain, and we could see we wouldn’t be able to get it in during harvest.”

The Meiers bit the bullet and added more bins, and they’re glad they did. The Meier operation is 30,000 acres, but is split among three families.

The region had an exceptional crop. Winter wheat averaged about 70 bushels per acre, compared with the regional average of about 45 bushels.

“The quality is amazing; I keep saying amazing,” Meier says, with 64.5 pounds per bushel and 13.5 percent protein. Even with all of the bins, farmers trucked 550,000 bushels to elevators 90 miles away.

“We’d have a lot of grain on the ground right now because you can’t get trains to move.”

Meier acknowledges that production success is a big part of the transportation equation.

But it’s not the only factor, and he exemplifies one of the others: There are simply more cropped acres in the region than there used to be. Conservation Reserve Program land, as well as other land that was in grass, has been broken up. And more farmers are planting higher-volume crops such as corn.

“Farming is getting better; yields are getting better,” Meier says.

Most of the Meier grain is commercial, but about 15 percent goes into the seed channels.

A typical rotation is two years of winter wheat, followed by a year of spring wheat, then a year of corn and safflower.

Trever Meier, director of sales and marketing for Superior Manufacturing, of Kindred, N.D., which installed Al Meier’s most recent bins, says Superior bin sale numbers have gone up 30 to 40 percent annually in the past two years. Trever Meier, Al Meier’s nephew, says sales of the commercial-sized bins, 54, 60 and 74 feet in diameter, increased 100 percent this year.

“We’re seeing more of the 50,000-bushel bins and higher,” Trever Meier says.

Declining commodity prices are driving some of the increase as farmers prefer to store grain so they can more effectively participate in the futures market. Also, he says, farms like Meier’s continue to get larger, and those farmers want more centralized storage.

The seed side

Al Meier is part of the march of technology, expanding into a commercial seed business in 2013 by building a high-capacity, state-of-the-art seed plant in Wessington Springs and adding a weighing hopper for selling treated wheat from Hayes.

MPM Certified Seed’s plant in Wessington Springs is one of the only built-from-scratch plants of its type in the three-state area.

The $1 million plant was built to last. It is a quarter-mile from some of the worst tornado damage sustained in Wessington Springs on June 18, but escaped damage.

“We were fortunate,” says Mike Polanchek, Al Meier’s son-in-law, who manages the plant day-to-day.

Meier is in his second stage in his farming career.

He grew up on a diversified farm in Glen Ullin, N.D., and started farming on his own near Carson, N.D., but ran into the farm credit crisis.

In 1991, he came to Wessington Springs, which served as a base for his custom harvesting company. Gradually, he developed and expanded a new farming enterprise and dropped the custom harvesting.

Kylan Meier developed a separate farm, which he operates in association with his dad’s.

Four years ago, the Meiers started selling certified seed and two years later, they formed MPM Certified Seed with Polanchek as a partner. Al’s wife, Mara, works with bookwork and the seed business, and cooks for a farming and seed crew that includes eight people outside of the family.

“Our primary focus is wheat, and mainly AgriPro varieties,” Meier says. “AgriPro has a Clearfield trait that is resistant to the herbicide Beyond that kills feral rye.”

Meier says he got into the seed business in part because of his own farms’ rye problems. He started with a mobile “crimp and cleaner” machine, but two years ago decided to build the $1 million processing plant. “Farming has been good to us,” he says.

MPM’s seed treater can handle up to 2,000 bushels an hour, in a continuous fl ow system, with two upper bins that handle 5,000 pounds of seed, or 83 bushels. The treater mixes by weight, so if the “prescription” calls for 12 ounces of chemical per hundredweight of grain, that’s exactly what goes on.

“While it’s treating, it starts filling up the other side, so it’ll go back and forth, making it continuous flow,” Polanchek says. Most of the registered and certified seed originates from the Meier farms or in the Wessington Springs area.

Treated seed trend

More of the winter wheat seed planted in the region is treated, especially in areas west of Pierre.

Neal Foster, executive director of the South Dakota Crop Improvement Association in Brookings, says the MPM plant is one of the notable examples of plants rising to meet increased demand. There will be more wheat seed demand as Conservation Reserve Program acres shrink, and as corn prices decline to around $3 per bushel.

Dwayne Beck, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, says as farmers have abandoned fallow and have increased production into wheat and other crops, the need for quality seed becomes more important. In addition, earlier planting exposes seed to the elements for longer periods.

Polanchek says more farmers are putting on a fungicide and insecticide for wireworm and greenbug protection. Ruth Beck, an agronomy field specialist for South Dakota State University’s regional Extension Service office in Pierre (and Dwayne’s wife), notes fungicides aren’t always recommended, but they are this year. She says the insecticide treatments are less commonly recommended.

In 2013, there was more fusarium head blight, or scab, than usual in the region’s wheat.

The cleaning process

The seed cleaning that takes place at the plant has four steps - debearder, air screen, indent machine and gravity table.

“I can treat and clean at the same time and load out pretty easily,” Polanchek says.

The facility has nine, 4,000-bushel bins - five for dirty wheat and four for clean wheat.

Clean seed goes into a blower bin and is carried to storage bins pneumatically, rather than being conveyed mechanically, for labor savings and quality control.

In 2014, the plant has already put through about 2 million pounds of winter wheat seed, Polanchek says. Conceivably, the plant could clean up to 10,000 bushels in a long day.

Elevators used to handle most of the seed cleaning, but more portable operations have arisen in recent years, and they’ve had a diffi cult time keeping up with the crop expansion, Dwayne Beck says.