New technologies can sometimes bring benefits beyond intended purposes. Such is the case of the security cameras that MBS Family Farms installed to deter thefts of grain, fuel, fertilizer and seed at their large bin site.
The northern Iowa family farm operation enlisted the services of an offsite, independent third party to remotely monitor the video from their multiple security cameras. In doing so, they’ve discovered the video adds an accurate cross check on timing and identification of each load of grain in and out of their storage facilities.
It’s a third source of reconciliation on grain inventories, confirming paper and computer records, that gives them added confidence in inventories and operational efficiencies.
When MBS Family Farms installed a set of security cameras to prevent theft, they didn’t foresee how the system would also become an important asset of their grain inventory management system.
“When we installed the cameras, theft of grain, fuel or seed was our biggest concern,” says Karmen Mehmen, an owner as well as compliance and work project manager for the north central Iowa corn and soybean farm. “We figured out we had a truckload of grain stolen in 2015 after the fact, when we were cleaning out a bin. We thought we should have had a truckload left, but came up that much short,” she says. “We usually have someone around here all the time, but we think it was stolen in the middle of the day when we were all at the funeral of an employee. We had more grain stolen another time when we were all away at a family celebration.”
“I think theft is more likely now than it was 10 to 15 years ago,” adds Karmen’s daughter-in-law Kerri Mehmen, who keeps books for the operation. Grain trucks hold 950 bushels. At $3 a bushel, a truckload of corn stolen is a loss of almost $3,000, and a truckload of soybeans at $10 a bushel would amount to a loss of nearly $10,000.
Watch for theft and more
“The video cameras help us with other issues besides theft. When we were in Indiana last year for Christmas, we were showing people how the system worked and one of our cameras showed soybeans spilling from one of the bins,” Kerri says. “We called Randy, our operations manager, and he shut it down.”
MBS Family Farms is a sizable operation, with a separate trucking company, retail inputs company, and total of 16 employees. “There’s a lot of coming and going, especially during harvest with multiple combines harvesting until midnight, and semis hauling grain,” says Daryl Pohlman, Chief Financial Officer for the farm. “A truck leaving the farm at 2 a.m. wouldn’t be seen as abnormal—you just want to be sure it’s your truck.”
Sixteen motion-activated security cameras are mounted and focused on bins, fuel tanks, seed storage and fertilizer supply facilities. “It’s a theft deterrent just having the security camera system,” Karmen says, “and there are offsetting financial benefits. Because we have the security system, a crisis plan, worker safety, and other measures in place, we’re able to reduce our liability premiums.” MBS Family Farms gets the maximum credit for premium reductions, amounting to about $8,800 annually. “That pays for some of the security system expenses,” Karmen says.
24/7 monitoring offsite
Last summer, a company in Urbandale, Iowa, approached MBS Family Farms with a proposal to run a pilot study of the value of offsite monitoring of the video recordings. The company, Praedium Ventures, LLC, provides on-farm consulting services for animal welfare, safety, security, environmental planning and worker care production practices.
Part of Praedium’s service to dairy, poultry and pork producers has been to monitor producer-supplied video recordings 24/7. “The video is stored on the producer’s site, but they don’t have time to monitor it real-time or on a timely basis,” says Praedium CEO Earl Dotson. “They see value in independent third party monitoring that alerts them to problems, so they ask us to monitor their camera recordings offsite and give them timely reports.”
Dotson was curious to find out whether similar offsite monitoring would be of value to a grain farm. “Praedium approached us to see if there would be value to have another set of eyes monitoring cameras on a grain farm,” says Karmen.
Inventory management check
“We wanted to evaluate the offsite monitoring during fall harvest, when we have so much activity at all hours of the day,” says Pohlman. “Security was our concern, but we soon learned our security video recordings dovetailed into our inventory management system. This video monitoring and the regular reports we get from Praedium give us another check on the number of loads of grain left in a bin.
“We started numbering our trucks so the cameras would record the truck number each time in and out—we know who brought a load of grain in and when, and who took a load of grain out and when. We have paper and computer records of that, but this gives us three sources of reconciliation,” Pohlman says.
“We haul grain for other farmers, and we know tickets can get mixed up on who owns a load of grain,” Karmen says. “The same can happen with fertilizer. We were billed twice for the same load of fertilizer. That wasn’t on purpose, it was a mistake. But the video monitoring helped us get to the bottom of the double billing more quickly. We may still not know all the value of monitoring can bring to us.”
They may find out. Both parties have decided to continue the offsite monitoring, for at least another year.