01 Mar

Role of Weighing in Produce and Livestock Agricultural Settings

When it comes to crop production, scales are used in formulation of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and hybrid seed production.  For livestock, scales are used in formulation of feed and check-weighing animals for rate of gain on different types of feed. In the packing plant, mono-rail scales are used for checking the yield (checking the carcass weight compared to the live weight), checking the shrink (loss of moisture weight in the cooler), and weighing the primal cuts of the final product. At the end of the cycle, scales are used in retail/wholesale buying/shipping of the final product.

There are a few differences in how scales are used in produce versus livestock settings. Produce scales tend to be used more seasonally. When the river opens for navigation and during harvest, they have very heavy usage; the other 35 weeks of the year they face more moderate usage – say not more than 20-30 trucks per day. Produce sales are in a truck, so where the load is placed on the scale is controlled.

Livestock is a much higher priced product. For example, meat is over $1 per pound on the hoof, while corn is worth about 6 cents a pound. This results in smaller graduation sizes – 5 pounds for livestock versus 20 pounds for grain. Since livestock is “on the hoof,” the scale can be anywhere on the platform, with more motion from the animals moving around.

Changes in the wind

I foresee that weighing operations will soon be much more involved in tracking the product through the food chain. For crops, users will have to know if the product was genetically modified, treated with any herbicides or insecticides, and stored properly so as to prevent damage. Livestock applications will be involved in tracking the animal from birth to slaughter, and determining if the animal crossed any borders, or came from an area where disease was present.

Another new weighing application on the horizon that I am keeping my eye on is higher resolutions than allowed by NTEP. Instead of the 10,000 divisions allowed by NTEP, I have been seeing customers looking for 20 up to 50,000 divisions.  One common application for higher resolution is making feed. A large part of the batch might be inexpensive corn or beans, where a large grade size is fine. But then there are very potent and expensive vitamins and antibiotics that have to be more precise.  Now this requires a smaller prefix scale.

Factors to consider when choosing a scale for produce/livestock agriculture environments

Here are the top things I think you should look for in a scale: Accuracy, repeatability, sensitivity, reliability, and serviceability. Remember, most customers in this environment deal with a very small profit margin on huge quantities. They need reliable, accurate weights without having to give the scale a lot of tender loving care. It should be like a chunk of ground that weighs!

If you don’t select the right scale, you may be in for aggravation and inconvenience. If the scale is broken, or condemned by the state Weights and Measures Division, arrangements must be made to use someone else’s scale. This sometimes results in the users not trusting the scale – thinking they may be cheated by inaccurate weights.  If the weights generated by the scale are not reliable, they are useless. This usually results in replacing the inaccurate scale with one that is.

Economic or productivity losses due to using the wrong scale

Due to the cyclical nature of agricultural scale use, an inferior scale will almost always fail during heavy usage – just when it is needed the most. This often results is users repairing, rather than replacing, the scale due to time constraints. These repairs are often more costly because of overtime labor and “air freight rush” for parts needed to get the scale back up and running as soon as possible. Often the failing scale is then replaced in the off-season – which means all the money spent getting the scale repaired is wasted.

I have had customers that think of scales as a commodity like #2 field corn – all the same. This sometimes results in buying the scale based on the cheapest price. And that is a scale made as cheaply as possible, without taking long-term precautions to avoid getting a scale with a lot of deflection in the platform. The scale will work at first, but with every weighment, the platform weakens until it suffers from metal fatigue and has to be replaced. Or, to lower the cost, they select a pit scale built with very little rebar but then get a scale that fails because of low strength.

There are many examples of recent sales I made that I originally lost out on 20-25 years ago to a competitor with a cheaper price. One sale of a pit type truck scale went to a competitor selling a fabricated steel lever system that cost about $4500 less. The steel lever system rusted away and the pit the scale was in had multiple problems from frost pushing the walls in. The customer ended up paying to have the scale removed, the pit demolished, and the scale replaced at a cost of $115,000. There are not very many places you can invest $4500 and get a return of $115,000 in 25 years!

Scales play a major role in produce and livestock agricultural settings. Think of the scale as an investment in your business, not as a cost of doing business. With the very real cost of repair labor, inflation, downtime, a wise customer should buy the very best scale made — regardless of price. In the long term, a small price difference is negligible.