Keeping it under cover
by Sally Colby
Farm properties often have an assortment of outbuildings, some old and some new, put to use for a variety of purposes including equipment storage. When a farm’s existing buildings are no longer sufficient to store existing equipment, or if new equipment requires more space than what it’s replacing, new construction is probably a worthwhile investment.
One of the most important reasons to store equipment under cover is for protection, of both the money already spent and the item itself. Sun and severe weather exposure cause damage to tires, hoses, metal parts and paint. Tractors, implements and other equipment stored under cover will have a higher trade-in value.
Having all equipment under one roof saves time. It’s easier to schedule routine maintenance, and regular maintenance means fewer breakdowns in the field and less time lost for time-sensitive field work. Working on equipment in one location, especially if the building is clean, well lit and includes space for tools and parts, saves time and keeps tools in one spot.
It’s worth spending time siting a new equipment building. Many equipment sheds are open-sided, so a major consideration is which side of the structure will be open. Farmers are aware of prevailing weather patterns on their farms and should provide as much information as possible about wind and weather to the building contractor.
A central location for equipment allows better security. Plans for a new building can include an alarm system and motion-activated lighting to deter thieves. Security cameras have become more affordable and worth including in a new machinery shed. Most security cameras can be easily accessed via cell phone so the area can be monitored remotely.
Make sure snowfall, drifts or snow accumulation from plowing will be minimal on the roadway leading to the building and near the building itself. Allow ample space for clearing snow in front of the building, and space in front and on at least one side of the structure for temporary parking and attaching/detaching implements. Be aware of vehicular traffic patterns on the farm, potential blind spots, turning space in front of the structure and ease of backing any hitched equipment into the structure.
Inventory all the existing equipment to be stored and consider the largest equipment currently on the farm and how easily it can be maneuvered into the structure. Be sure to allow for future equipment that may be larger. The current tub grinder might fit in your design, but if livestock numbers increase, a larger grinder or even self-propelled equipment that requires more space might replace it. Think about the future – will the next generation be joining the operation, and do they plan to expand or add different ag enterprises that require equipment not currently on the farm?
An equipment storage building on farms with livestock should consider whether long-term plans will include additional livestock numbers or a different species, whether on the current farm or on purchased additional farmland or rented acreage.
It’s easy to plan a new building around the farm’s tractors since they’re used most frequently, but consider all possible implements and how often they will be used. Remember that any self-propelled equipment will require more space.
An open-front shed allows full access to the structure. Machinery can easily be parked close together without blocking another piece. Eliminating doors from the design keeps construction cost down, or perhaps funnels that money toward creating an adjacent area for seed and supplies and a secure pesticide storage area.
When planning lighting for a new structure, work with an electrician to ensure adequate lighting for whatever work will be done. In some cases, equipment storage buildings are completed without lighting, but include the basic framework needed to add lighting in the future. Lighting for safety, such as that required for working with equipment without natural daylight, should always be a priority.
Plans for a new equipment building may also include space for seed, fertilizer, a farm shop and miscellaneous storage. The original plan may change significantly once other considerations are made. While it’s tempting to plan for hay storage in a section of an equipment shed, the fire risk isn’t worth it.
If there’s no on-farm shop, consider designating one end of the building for tool and small equipment storage. Such items might include an air compressor, block heater, battery charger, welding equipment, pressure washer, lifts, attachments for smaller equipment such as skid steers and the farm’s ATVs. Livestock farms may consider allowing space for storing portable livestock handling equipment such as chutes.
Total floor space should be calculated based on the fold-up ability of certain equipment (batwing mower, disc, planters) and allow for hitch space. Be sure to allow for pivot angles, turning radius and backing. For equipment such as a combine with several heads, leaving any of the heads on will require more space. If heads are detached, allow for storing those so they’re easy to access without having to move other equipment.
If space is tight and equipment will be stacked from front to back, consider the entire year during planning. For example, spray equipment is often the first equipment to come out of storage in spring and is used throughout the season, so the plan should include easy access to all spray equipment.
Ideally, the building will be as large as you can afford, even if there will be unused space upon completion. Make sure the tallest piece of equipment will move easily under any new electrical lines.
The planning process should include a discussion about insurance, taxes and permits. The contractor should be aware of any necessary permits, but it’s a good idea to contact the local municipality to be sure nothing is missed. Site preparation for a new building should be handled by either the building contractor or an experienced subcontractor who is familiar with creating the appropriate base for a building.
It’s helpful to look at equipment sheds on other farms as well as a selection of plans to ensure the building will best suit the farm’s needs. Ask other farmers what they included or wish they had included when planning a new storage building. You may start out with what seems like the ideal design, but keeping an open mind while working with the building contractor can help create the most ideal building for your operation.