Darmani Grain Bins
Based in Fiske, Saskatchewan, Darmani builds innovative steel storage products for Western Canadian and U.S. farmers — but with an eye on the global marketplace. Coming from a farming background, Darmani started by offering much needed modifications to its now competitors’ products, creating practical solutions for existing grain bins, and today offers everything in grain storage with products range suited from the smallest farmer to the corporate giants.
Darmani’s farm and commercial agricultural storage products include grain bins, hopper bins, temporary storage, steel floors, and aeration and temperature monitoring equipment. The company also manufactures containment systems for liquid storage tanks [such as oil].
Curtis Epp, Operations Manager of Darmani Grain Storage, sat down with The Canadian Business Journal to discuss the grain storage industry in both Western Canada and internationally, as well as Darmani’s key secret to success.
Generations of farming within the family roots has led to valuable experience with Epp’s father, Richard, leading the R&D department at Darmani Grain Storage. With over 40 years of both farming and manufacturing experience, Epp Sr. started manufacturing farming accessories for the grain storage as he saw customers’ needs not being fulfilled, and often being called on by the farmers to fix or modify the existing equipment in order to make it a better product. Here Epp Sr. saw the opportunity to create a profitable business niche.
Most of the Darmani innovation originates in the hands of Epp Sr. through his views of the agricultural needs. “With his farming experience, he [Epp Sr.] lives and breathes to create innovative products,” says Epp.
Up until 2011, the company was undergoing a major expansion, and today provides farmers with cost effective grain bins along with all the support equipment such as doors, steel floors [which efficiently replace the traditional concrete floors], lids, and aeration systems for grain bins, providing unique products, all manufactured in Saskatchewan by people still in touch with farming.
Darmani focuses on building innovative solutions in the grain storage industry, and the company’s technical and agricultural know-how and intensive focus on product research and development are the key indigents to the company’s ongoing success.
Darmani products offer unique features not offered by the competition, such as aeration systems, steel floors and skylift elevators. Darmani aeration systems eliminate the need for the full floor aeration as well as unload tube in bins up to 20,000 bushels. The Darmani advantage is to mount the aeration fan to the bin door, then combining the two systems into one single cost-effective unit. The company’s steel floors represent a simple and unique innovation in the grain storage industry. Unlike expensive concrete that can crack and is permanent, the advantage of the Darmani steel floor is that they sit on a gravel foundation and are anchored to the ground for wind protection, allowing the customer to be able to move the bins if they are to be either resold and/or moved to a new location. Darmani also developed its Skylift – a small, portable and safe elevator that easily mounts to new and existing grain bins and is more cost effective than many of the outdated systems used to get to the top of the bins (ladders, safety cages or spiral staircases).
The company also continues to expand its product offering with temporary grain storage bins and oil field containment products that provide spillage protection to the oil talks. “Many companies are currently looking towards and refocusing on the energy sector, but we see this only as temporary, ‘boom & bust’ kind of a deal. We developed our oil containment solution because it is simple [involving only a regular grain bin sheet], but we will remain true to the grain storage market,” says Epp.
Challenges in Western Canada
The company currently employs 15 people, with some 45 contractors who built the bins at the customers’ sites. According to Epp, finding a suitable workforce in the area represents a significant challenge. To address the issue, Darmani expects 15 new workers coming in from the distant Philippines. “While our production is nearly fully automated, the labour continues to be an issue in the area. Contractual onsite labour is also a huge challenge as projects are usually hundreds of miles away. Also acquiring technical and engineering talent in rural Saskatchewan continues to be a challenge.”
As a smaller company, Darmani can remain competitive and quickly adjusts to the demands of the farmer and the changing industry. The company provides a “one place shopping centre” for its customers – all to the farmers’ satisfaction. The great Darmani advantage is that the company owns the product from the research and development, through manufacturing and installation, and as far as the full financing for the product. “While we continue to improve our efficiencies, our main goal is to improve the efficiencies of the consumers. There is a huge upside for the farmer buying from Darmani, as we deliver the best product and service because ‘we own the product’ — we design it, we manufacture it, so we know it inside out unlike most distributors and resellers.”
Grain Storage Industry
While the company works mostly in Canada, the management is well aware of the worldwide opportunities in the quality grain storage market. Grain storage is an integral component of the entire agricultural food and livestock feed production process. As the global population continues to grow, concerns in regards to food resources and their protection will continue to grow with food and livestock producers around the world, as reduction of waste through proper storage and handling can add to the producers’ bottom line (currently about 10 to 20 per cent of the grain produced in these regions becomes damaged and wasted due to humidity fungi and pests during storage). “With inadequate storage facilities, large amounts of the crop succumb to rut and waste. Even the poorer countries are realizing the amount of spoilage happening at their sites, and seeing the upside of safe and secure storage that can protect the grain for years, and the governments of these countries are also starting to take initiative in these areas, and supporting the growth of this market,” says Epp.
As far as expansion goes, the company has taken on all of Western Canada, executed projects in the U.S., and plans projects in Australia in 2013. “While Canada is our main focus at the moment, there are some up-and-coming international markets. For example, Russia and Eastern Europe are growing markets for grain storage, and we may tap into in the future.”