Some 30 years ago, Jimmy Walker watched men waiting in hammocks strung beneath snaking lines of trucks filled with grain. The men lounged idly, the grain languished, and labor costs mounted by the hour — the waste magnified as harvest season reached full bore.
The irony wasn't lost on Walker, owner of Saf-T-Cart in Clarksdale, Miss. The surreal scene, repeated at many grain elevators, set in motion an idea he believes is ripe for implementation.
Long lines at grain elevators have become an accepted inconvenience of American farming. However, Walker believes he's developed a remedy, a grain innovation to dramatically reduce cost and time — the Rol Hopper.
Walker has designed a series of holding bins, or hoppers, to transport grain from the fields to on-farm storage sites or grain elevators. The transport of the hoppers occurs at the farmer's convenience. But more significantly, the Rol Hopper system combines to be in continuous action.
“It's really economical. You're going to save money because you're going to keep a combine running. You've got a $300,000 combine and you're going to keep it turning. You can run all day and dump all night. The main thrust is to keep the combine operating in the field,” said Walker.
The simple concept is pared down to the essentials: A farmer needs the hoppers and a single hauling truck for transport to a grain elevator.
Walker has also designed dollies allowing the hoppers to be tractor-hauled to an on-farm storage site, eliminating the need for a truck.
“We also want to get this idea across — farmers won't necessarily need a truck to haul the hoppers. They can put dollies under the trailer and haul the hoppers on-farm with a tractor,” Walker said.
“With the glut of grain that we have everywhere in the country right now, the problem is these combines sitting, not having anywhere to dump. There's a shortage of trucks and the time involved is a very short harvest period,” said Danny Ryals, agricultural transportation specialist at Saf-T-Cart.
“We can drop these container bins in a field and the combine will never have to stop, and we will always have plenty of bins to drop on. Once they fill some bins, we pick them up, drop some empties, and dump the grain in on-farm storage bins or at elevators. We unload quickly and get on back — that way the combines never have to stop.”
The hoppers save time, but Ryals is quick to add that time is only one benefit of many. “It's not really so much about time, as it is about investment and handling equipment. Each one of these trailers they're hauling with now takes a truck, a driver, and insurance. But now we can take a single truck, a single driver, and a single insurance policy to handle it all.”
Walker stresses that a farmer using Rol Hoppers will cut innumerable expenses. The overall management costs can be reduced by a factor of five. “Five wages, five trucks, five times insurance, five times the cost of fuel — it's a lower investment and an ease of operations.”
A typical Rol Hopper is 8 feet wide, 7 feet high, and 24 feet long. Walker is currently in the patent application process, and full operation is set for the wheat harvest in the summer of 2008.
Years of observing protracted truck lines and listening to the complaints of drivers have sharpened Walker's drive to bring the Rol Hopper concept to execution. His concept was heavily influenced by an agricultural cousin — cotton. “I started looking at how they haul cotton in modules. Well, that revolutionized cotton. So I figured we could do the same thing with grain in bins. This is really an extension of another industry. It's more of an application-idea. But it works, it works.”
After his initial ideas on grain hoppers, approximately 30 years ago, Walker tabled his thoughts, harbored his hopes, and time did the rest. “We didn't raise much grain around here, but especially with corn, things have changed … last winter, I had a little time, and I decided to build the hoppers at long-last. This year has been an experimental year. We believe it's going to be the way to haul grain.”
Billy Strohm, vice president of sales for Rol Hopper, said storage and movement are the “major players” that grain farmers face. He believes the hoppers provide “innovation of movement” on the farm, from field to storage. The hoppers allow a farmer to shed reliance on trucking to move grain from one location to another.
“The on-farm management of grain transport is what the farmer is looking for — in order to designate when he's going to cut. That way, he's not at the mercy of the truck driver. If he's got the hoppers, then he controls his destiny concerning his time frame. When his crop gets ready, he can cut when he wants to — because he can transport as he wants to. He can move his own crop on his own farm with his own tractor.”
Strohm said the straightforward and uncomplicated hoppers are precisely what grain farmers need. “It's simple. It's so simple, that nobody has ever done it.”