Up until last year, Dusty Cupp was raising about 3,500 acres of primarily soybeans and commercial seed corn on his farm, County Top Farm in Mendon, Mich.
He’s still doing seed corn with his father, Kerry (semiretired), and his brother, Brady (who also has his own operation), but he wanted more versatility with the farm, especially after picking up additional acreage. He wanted options and to not have so much under contractual growing.
“I wanted it to be my choice of the direction I wanted to farm,” Cupp says. “Growing seed corn, you don’t store anything. You harvest it on the ear, it gets shipped directly to the facility, and they process and dry it.”
Cupp decided to put in his own grain-drying and storage system in 2021, and he hasn’t looked back. He went from 30-50 acres to 900 acres of conventional corn this year and may be expanding in the future.
It’s the first modern grain facility on the farm. Before, Cupp was using bins his grandpa put up about 50 years ago that were located on his uncle’s property. “We had gotten big enough I felt it was time, and I needed to expand and go the direction I wanted to go,” he says.
Seed corn pays a premium, but “you lose some of the management decisions on your ground,” Cupp says. “I wanted more control of what I’m planting and where.”
Cupp isn’t breaking his ties with the seed corn industry though. He still raises it and has three employees devoted to detasseling, spraying and harvesting for the seed corn industry.
Once the decision was made to put up a grain facility, it opened a floodgate of additional questions, including deciding on what would serve his needs and who to contract with. He had watched his neighbor, Justin Struble, put up a grain facility the year before in 2020.
“He’s very particular, and I know he did his homework, so I relied some on him for direction,” Cupp says. “I had priced a couple of hopper bins a couple years ago and had trouble with a particular company getting back to me. Justin was using another company, GSI dealer Zook Farm Equipment, which is based in Alto, Mich. He had nothing but good to say about them. So, that’s where I started and ended.”
Cupp met with Dave Zook, and together they devised a plan. From everything he’s read, Cupp knew there were three major considerations when placing a grain system — a Class A road, three-phase power and natural gas. Cupp, who is farming in a 20-mile radius in southwest Michigan’s St. Joseph County, had two locations to fit that bill.
“I chose this particular spot, [Silver Street just south of Vicksburg] because it’s more centrally located on our farm than the other, which is on the western side of our farm,” he says. “It’s less miles for trucking and everything. I’ve had some neighbors ask why I didn’t build it by my house. I said, ‘I don't have three-phase, I don't have natural gas, and I don't have a Class A road at the home farm. And the location I chose is only 4 miles away.”
The team broke ground in March 2021, moving top dirt and hauling in sand. The concrete pads were poured in April, and the tower dryer was set in the middle of May. Both bins went up next, with a crew setting both ends up in a matter of six days. The wet bin came in August, and the project was mostly finished — minus some electrical work — for corn picking that started the second week of October.
“Startup went really smooth … no real issues,” Cupp says. “My dad raised commercial corn back in the ‘80s, but he started raising seed about 1989, so that's all I've ever known since I was boy. I've never been around drying corn. It was fun and just something new and different that I haven't ever done before.”
Ultimately, this is what was decided and built to start with in Phase 1:
- two storage bins, each with 78,000-bushel capacity
- a 27,000-bushel, wet-storage bin
- a tower grain dryer with 1,000-bushel-per-hour capacity
- a hopper tank on an overhead structure with 5,500-bushel capacity
- two grain legs — 3,500 and 6,000-bushels per hour
- a pit hopper
With the dryer, Cupp says he looked at his current combine’s capacity and where he was planning to go down the road. “Going from 20% moisture corn to 15%, I can dry 1,000 bushels per hour, and it’s the same dryer my neighbor purchased, who seemed to really like it,” he says.
For the bins, he took into consideration seed corn production plans, as well as commercial corn and soybeans. “Roughly, we raise 60,000 to 70,000 bushels of soybeans in a year — figuring 1,100 acres, 65 bushels per acre,” Cupp says “So, I wanted something that wasn't just big enough for now, but also room to grow if we pick up more acres.”
For starters, he opted for a bin each for corn and soybeans. “The bean bin was probably three-quarters full, and the corn was two-thirds full last year,” he says.
As Phase 1 was getting underway in the spring of 2021, Zook provided Cupp with a price for Phase 2, which included two more bins to the north.
“I decided to go ahead and put up one more, which would be a 60-foot band or 120,000-bushel bin,” Cupp says. “I wasn’t planning on doing that for a year or two, but for the price they shot me and being able to get it up before this coming harvest , I went ahead and did it.”
Concrete was poured last fall, and it was built last November — ahead of schedule. Its operational finishes were completed this spring, ready and waiting for fall’s harvest.
“I don’t think in the short term, and it proved to be a wise decision because that same bandwidth would cost me 35% to 40% more today,” Cupp says.
The concrete for the fourth bin (120,000-bushels in Phase 3) will go down in June this year. “That allows me to get all my flat work done, landscaping, and grass all planted on the north half, and then in two, three or four years, it's there for building and I don't have to tear everything up again. I try to pre-plan the best I can,” Cupp says.
Invested to date is about $1.2 million, he says. One area that was about one-third more than anticipated was electrical. “We went fully automated, which is what I wanted and being able to run the system from my phone, but everything has gone up a lot,” Cupp says.
Cupp doesn’t plan to do away with seed corn production, but he does plan to expand his conventional corn acres. For those thinking of putting in a new grain facility, he says, “Make sure you have got good drainage. We ended up raising ours up 6 inches more, which amounts to a lot of filler when you're talking a half-acre square. I was questioning Zook on whether we really needed to go 6 inches higher. We shot grade off from the road 300 feet away by bringing in almost 100 loads of 33 tons each of sand — I’m really glad we did.”
Asked what he would differently, Cupp says, “I would have done it five years earlier — and maybe two bigger bins to start with, but that’s the numbers I gave Zook, and ultimately, I’m super happy.”