I can't believe I have never actually gone over and looked up through this cage before. We've lived on the farm since the Summer of 2004 and I just walk on by without really looking. Suddenly, I found myself with the camera in hand in July of this year and I said, "hmmmmm." I say "hmmmmm" fairly often on the farm, actually. The humming birds have threatened to sue me because I keep using their catch-phrase, but they failed to copyright it, so I think I'm still in the clear.
I believe I can be forgiven for not exploring the Harvestore any more closely than I have in the past. First of all, we have no use for the building. We don't have the type of livestock or land where we would produce and use silage. Essentially, this is a big, blue 'thingy' on our farm that just sits there. You can't ignore it, yet we do - every day. In fact, of all of the pictures Rob took for the 2016 GFF Summer Festival Photo Treasure Hunt, the one below was the ONLY one Tammy could not find. It's just the side of the Harvestore...
These blue, low-oxygen tower silos were a new technology in the 1970's that prevented or reduced the contact of oxygen with the silage. Oxygen is one culprit that is responsible for the degradation of the feed quality of the silage. However, as silage ages and breaks down, it creates other gasses (such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide). While I am not a chemist and I will not pretend to be able to accurately depict all of that can happen with the development of dangerous gasses in these silos, I can tell you that I am very aware that there are too many farm deaths form accidents relating to silos/silage. A fairly easy read to get an idea as to how these things can happen can be found in this article for the Hay and Forage Grower.
Prior to this point, I'd only had this vague sense that a silo is dangerous. Not necessarily this particular silo, but, I have heard about or read about farm deaths and injuries nearly every year of my life that features either a silo or some sort of grain bin storage unit. Since I don't have a use for it AND since I am not a person inclined to enjoy heights, there has been no reason to explore or do more than look at it and wonder if anything could/should be done with it.
On the other hand, the Harvestore clearly provides us with an interesting focal or contrasting point when we take pictures on the farm. It is also an easy to describe landmark to provide for persons who might be coming to visit that have never been to the Genuine Faux Farm before. We have briefly considered putting some sort of decoration on it for the Holiday Season, but... you know, time, energy, and that heights thing, right?
From a more considered angle, I tend to think of these blue Harvestore buildings as a symbol of the farm crisis in the 1980s (here is a link to an Iowa Public Television production on this topic). This interesting article in Successful Farming hearkens back to 1985 and links to current day issues. A Harvestore this size cost around $50,000 versus $16,000 for a stave silo and $4000 for a bunker silo in 1975. In short, it was a big investment for a new technology that was advertised to provide lower loss levels and a better return. Unfortunately, the loading/unloading rates were slow and there were issues where the technology failed to work as represented by salespeople, as seen in this Minnesota Supreme Court case in 1994.
It's an age-old story. Conditions were right in the 1970s for profitable farming. Farmers were encouraged to take more risks and take on debt based on future expected performance. The Harvestore was just one such infrastructure investment. Once some of the conditions changed and prices (and profitability) declined, there were numerous farmers left with a debt-load that could not be supported by the new income levels. While I do not equate our farm with the farms of the 1970s and 80s or the large row crop operations today, we can still learn from these events. There is a fine line between being innovative/forward-thinking and reckless/irresponsible. It is not always so clear where that line lies as we look at investments on our farm.
Perhaps the Harvestore silo isn't ignored as much on our farm as I said it was earlier in this post. It stands on the farm and reminds us to be mindful of safety as we work. It is all too easy to get injured if we are distracted and fail to pay attention to what we are doing. The silo towers over other buildings and reminds us of the necessary balance between caution and innovation as we make decisions for the future as stewards of our farm.
Otherwise, we still don't have any practical use for it. But, it can provide us with excellent photo opportunities.