On Route 30 between Milton and Milford, where Isaacs Road meets Cedar Creek Road, a 185-foot-tall grain elevator towers over four brand-new grain silos. The silver structures are stunning – as they probably would have been to area farmers decades ago.
Jeff Wells, who tends to about 6,500 acres throughout Sussex County with his family, said when he first started helping his father tend crops, they had only two 10,000-bushel storage tanks for all their grain.
“When you're tilling that many acres, you need somewhere to store it all,” he said. “Often a farmer's biggest expense is drying and storage. This gives us selling options. It helps level things out so you have better control of when you sell.”
More than half a century after learning the farm business from his father, Wells and his family need more space for their harvest. Everything in the agricultural industry is growing in scale – the equipment, the acreage, the yields – so it was a natural move to go bigger and better with grain storage, too.
“If it was just us, we probably wouldn't do something like this,” Wells said, referring to the business partnership with his brothers that has attracted a new generation of Wells farmers.
Wells said the family farm operation uses a granary along Route 1 near the Broadkill River, where they can store up to 950,000 bushels of crops. The problem, he said, is getting there.
“The traffic has gotten so bad,” Wells said. “We wanted to expand, and it wasn't feasible to do it over there.”
That's what prompted him to build along Route 30. Four tanks – two wet, two dry – have been erected, as well as a grain elevator that will dump feed corn into the tanks. He is still waiting on a grain dryer, which will dry out corn before it's stored long-term in one of two 310,000-bushel tanks. Wells said the family harvests corn mainly used in chicken feed, which is sold mostly to Mountaire. Wells said the storage under construction is for his family's use, but they may consider renting storage space to other farmers in the future.
Wells said corn is first dumped into the wet tanks, which hold about 20,000 bushels each, and the crop usually contains 20 percent to 25 percent moisture. That wet crop is then transferred to a grain dryer, which brings it down to about 15 percent moisture, before it's then transferred into the larger dry storage tanks. The new dry storage tanks are about 100 feet tall and 78 feet in diameter, Wells said.
An old, single-story cannery building, once owned by the Isaacs family, looks like a Lego compared to the immense tanks, which loom over the flat, rural landscape. Still, Wells said, the massive tanks are not exactly out of the ordinary.
“There's a lot of storage being built in Sussex County,” he said. “And, down the road, we may add more here, too.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The accompanying graphic has been updated to state crop yields have increased, not decreased, in recent years.