Agricultural Building Industry: Growth, Change and Metal

Agricultural buildings used in farming operations include those designed to house families and workers, as well barns and shelters for grain and crop storage; cattle, horse and livestock barns; arenas and feedlots; dairy and calving barns; farm machinery storage; workshops and crop processing.

A long way from old-fashioned barn raising, metal building systems are accelerating the ag building industry

By Mark Robins

Photo courtesy of Heritage Building Systems

Metal building systems provide large clear-spans, produce column-free interiors with uninterrupted floor space and open, adaptable floor plans and excel at supporting the functions in an agricultural environment. They are quick to build, virtually maintenance free, energy saving, long lasting and able to withstand harsh elements. For these reasons metal building systems along with metal wall and roofing are helping grow, change and evolve the agricultural building industry.

Photo courtesy of Bunger Steel

Photo courtesy of Bunger Steel

Agricultural Evolution

Over the past 50 years, there has been an expansion of corporate farming interests. These large farms consolidate many smaller farms into what’s known as factory farming. “The large size of these farms creates a need for larger storage facilities to house equipment and production materials along with livestock,” says Thomas Davis, marketing manager of BSIT-Data Management at Rapidset Metal Buildings, Colorado Springs, Colo. “This change in the farming industry has directly affected the agricultural building industry. We see a dramatic increase in the length of feed and livestock buildings to host a larger number of animals.”

Agricultural buildings used to be made almost entirely out of wood. Davis cites concerns over deforestation and lumber cost increases as reasons why farms are moving to steel building construction. “Steel buildings are much less expensive compared to their wood counterparts and last much longer. We have seen the number of building designs and features increase to meet the ever-changing needs of agricultural producers.”

William L. Coulbourne, owner, Coulbourne Consulting, Churchton, Md., agrees metal buildings have replaced old wooden pole barns and similar structures because of their cost and ease of erection. “Large farms or consolidated farms could be using metal buildings to help consolidate operations. I think the primary driving forces are cost and ease of erection.”

Photo courtesy of American Buildings Co.

Photo courtesy of American Buildings Co.

Fredrick Moore, general manager of Heritage Building Systems, Little Rock, Ark., has seen customers (commercial and family-owned) seek out agricultural metal buildings over wood because they are noncombustible, a better investment on their property, don’t require an overhead truss, are termite resistant and are typically cheaper to insure. “Now, we see most customers are taking into consideration the ease of construction and cost to determine if a metal building is right for them. For farmers, one major driving force is federal regulation. For example, dairy and cattle farmers have regulations to follow for their feeding operations if they are housing animals. Often, an agricultural metal building is chosen because of its price, ease of construction, compliance with guidelines and ability to offset corrosive material.”

Larry Burkhalter, district sales manager at American Buildings Co., Eufaula, Ala., has witnessed his metal buildings business grow and expand because of the increasing construction needs that come along with agriculture storage. “Modern farming methods have allowed greater and greater crop yields, which in turn have required more and more commodity storage for the farmers. Also, building needs have arisen from newer agricultural crops on the scene. For example, oil processing facilities for olives and tea tree oil, have been either constructed recently or are on the drawing board and in the planning stages.”

Whitney Castro, marketing coordinator, Bunger Steel, Phoenix, explains the agricultural metal building industry has come a long way in terms of style, colors, efficiency, design, and interior or exterior finishes. “We’ve seen a turn from canopy style, partially enclosed agricultural structures to full-build traditional metal buildings. Consumers are starting to view metal buildings in a new light, realizing they can be multiuse with a minimal number of modifications. Style and taste have evolved over the years in the agricultural building industry. Though many times a pre-engineered building design can be perceived as basic, there has been an uptick in adding a creative layer to projects. Metal roof component sales have also risen with the popularity of barndominiums and industrial home trends. Fully enclosed, rigid-frame buildings are more common among our agricultural customers now compared to 10 years ago when they were building more simple canopies and sheds. People often prefer to invest in a project that will last for many years to come and steel can do just that.”

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Moore has witnessed the need for storage space in agricultural buildings because of the rising popularity of hemp/CBD/marijuana grow houses. “These factors have steered us to place an added focus in this area. We’ve also seen the customer base evolve from cowboys wanting a riding ring to a more tech-savvy and financially aware consumer. Everyday people inquire about agricultural buildings that they can use to park tractors, store hay, use as a mancave or she-shed, and to harvest hemp. Each of these uses have unique details that our building consultants need to stay current on. Lastly, the economy plays a big role in our success in this space. When times are good, farmers will invest much more money into buildings. However, their investment dollars are also going towards technology that bring efficiencies in their work. They are faced with prioritizing buildings over technology.”

Mike Momb, “The Pole Barn Guru,” technical director at Hansen Pole Buildings, Browns Valley, Minn., has also seen the growth of numerous grow houses over the past few years as marijuana has become legal. “Fully engineered, post-frame construction lends itself well to this application as buildings can be erected and become fully operational rapidly, allowing building owners to speed delivery of their products to marketplaces.”

Smart Greenhouses/Agriculture

There has been a trend toward using technologies to boost agricultural production efficiency such as smart greenhouses. It brings together traditional agricultural systems and internet of things (IoT) technologies for complete automation and visibility. The rise in organic food is contributing to the overall growth of the global smart greenhouse market.

A report from marketresearch.com titled “Global Smart Greenhouse Market Forecast 2021-2028,” addresses this growth. It predicts the global smart greenhouse market to have a CAGR of 8.40% during the forecast period, 2021-2028.

Photo courtesy of Bunger Steel

“Smart agriculture is the future of how societies grow and manage their food infrastructure,” Davis says. “The decrease in arable land due to climate change is forcing a growing number of operations indoors. The continued development in this market will require metal building designers to develop new and innovative ways to meet the growing demand.”

Similar to smart agriculture is the concept of connected agriculture—the implementation of advanced technologies to improve, manage and control farming activities to increase production and quality of agricultural products. According to a market research study by Pune, India-based Fortune Business Insights titled “Connected Agriculture Market Size, Share & Industry Analysis,” the connected agricultural market is predicted to grow to USD $7.22 billion by 2026 with a CAGR of 19.1% from 2019.

Storage, Roofs and Walls

Metal buildings excel at agricultural machinery storage like combines and a research report from Northbrook, Ill.-based MarketsandMarkets titled “Farm Equipment Market,” provides information on this. It predicts the farm equipment market size is projected to reach USD $113.0 billion by 2025 from an estimated USD $92.2 billion in 2020 at a CAGR of 4.2% during the forecast period. It also cites the growing popularity of precision farming to be a major factor for driving farm equipment sales in the coming years. Therefore, the farm equipment market is expected to witness significant growth in the future and that means it must be stored.

Hal Still, president of Southern Agcom, Blakely, Ga., says newer and modern farm machinery, such as GPS-guided tractors, high-tech equipped combines and other harvesting machines, are expensive purchases. “Agri-business owners are building structures to store this machinery to protect the machine and its technology from the outside elements that can cause damage; thereby protecting their investment.”

Photo courtesy of Bunger Steel

Photo courtesy of Bunger Steel

Not only has the market grown, the actual size of farm equipment has increased over the years. Because of that, farmers are building larger buildings that require larger doors. “Twenty-five years ago, a 30- by 36-foot door that was 14 to 16 feet tall was considered a large door,” says Jason Myrvik, general manager at Midland Door Solutions, West Fargo, N.D. “Today, a 50-foot by 18-foot or 50-foot by 20-foot door is average. Even with the growth in equipment size, farmers still want to be able to drive equipment into buildings without removing or folding components to make it fit. This is where a bi-fold or hydraulic door comes into play. A bi-fold door is mounted on the exterior of the building and folds up and in half while a hydraulic door opens out and away.”

Mrvik says another change, in addition to the larger size of buildings and their doors, is how they are insulated. “Farmers are always seeking ways to reduce operating costs and increase profitability. Controlling energy loss is one way to do that.”

Still agrees growing storage demands are a concern and agricultural buildings have gotten larger in terms of square footage because of it. He cites more land is being cleared, and new farming technology and genetically modified crops are resulting in greater crop yields. “These changes are affecting the agriculture industry and therefore, the structures being made to house and store these goods. Storing these goods has changed as well, such as the use of cold storage. More and more uses and applications of insulated metal panels on both roofs and walls are assisting in the cold storage of commodities. Finally, large indoor riding arenas have become popular over the past several years. These different applications have all taken advantage of the design flexibility of preengineered metal buildings.”

A research report completed by the Metal Construction Association (MCA) and FMI titled “MCA Consolidated Statistical Study,” was published in June 2020. It predicts metal roofs and metal walls growth in their use for storage and other applications for agricultural buildings. The report states that installed metal roofing shipments for agricultural buildings in the United States are anticipated to have a CAGR from 2019 to 2023 of 1.5% with a total of approximately $2.26 million spent. It predicts metal roofing will account for the greatest percentage (87%) of total roof area during this time frame in the agricultural segment, though this has the potential to be the most impacted segment by COVID-19. It predicts commercial and agricultural metal wall shipments represent 69% of the metal wall market. Similar to metal roofing, metal wall utilization (87%) is highest in the agricultural segment.

“We’ve seen an uptick in metal roofs for hay sheds, as it’s the next best thing to having an enclosed building,” Moore says. “It’s also a least expensive option for equipment. Metal roofs and walls have more longevity and are flame- and insect-resistant.”

Davis says the main reason for this increased demand in agriculture structures’ metal roofs and metal walls is the consumer’s ROI. “Metal roofs and walls last for a very long time and require minimal maintenance. Overall, the increase is driven by the fact that right now, metal roofs and walls offer a better combination price point and life span versus other materials.”

Photo courtesy of Midland Door Solutions