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Sentinels of the Plains: Grain Elevators

Sentinels of the Plains: Grain Elevators


2012.2.10: Photo of Goodland area grain elevators taken by Gary Rich in December 2011.

Goodland’s skyline, much like the skyline of many Great Plains towns, is marked by grain elevators. Goodland has several grain elevators along the railroad that extend along the edge of town (forming a  typical “T” town shape to Goodland).

Grain elevators are described in the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, edited by David Wishart, thusly:

The grain elevator is a facility that stores dry, small cereal grains; it handles grain in bulk rather than in bags or sacks, and it stores, moves, and processes grain vertically. Vertical handling and storage are desirable because grain flows by gravity in tall, narrow bins, and thus less power and labor are needed. Grain elevators emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century in North America when agriculture shifted from a subsistence-based to a cash-market economy as wheat farmers of the Great Plains states and provinces began mass, long-distance distribution of their produce…

2012.2.17: Photo by Gary Rich of area grain elevators looking East on the Western edge of Goodland, taken December 2011.

Grain elevators can be classified into four types based on function. The first and most numerous is the country, or local, elevator sited along railroad tracks in the small towns of the Great Plains. Because of the large quantities of grain produced in the surrounding countryside, farmers need local storage facilities to handle surplus production before shipping to domestic or international markets. Country elevators allow local producers to hold their grain for a better price, protect it against waste and spoilage, accommodate large quantities of grain during a peak harvest season, and charge lower storage rates than terminal elevators.

In Goodland, the elevators store sunflowers, corn, wheat, milo, and soybeans. Owned by ADM, Scoular Grain, SunOpta, and Frontier Ag, they service a large area with farmers traveling over thirty miles to deliver their grain. The earliest grain elevators in Goodland were built made of wood and were later replaced with concrete construction. The oldest concrete elevator was poured in the 1940s and is now owned and operated by SunOpta.

To see more photographs of grain elevators visit Tales of Goodland and photographer Gary Rich’s web portfolio of Grain Elevators across the United States. Read more about grain elevators in The American Grain Elevator: Function and Form by Linda Laird.

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