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Farmers Reimagine How Farm Buildings Are Used

Could You Capitalize on Untapped Revenue Streams with Current Infrastructure?

14 Jun 2024

Farm buildings have a rich history that spans centuries, evolving from rudimentary stone and wooden structures to sophisticated hubs of innovation and sustainability.

From traditional barns and sheds to modern agricultural complexes, these buildings have adapted to meet the changing needs of farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole.

These old sheds have evolved past shabby buildings dotting the horizon, filled with dusty farm stuff — they now serve as high-tech multi-purpose facilities that play a crucial role in supporting and advancing modern farming practices.

Traditional farm buildings originally served primarily as shelters for livestock, storage for equipment, and supplies and spaces for various agricultural activities. These early structures were often simple in design, constructed using local materials, such as wood, thatch or stone and, over time, advancements in construction techniques and materials led to the slow development of more versatile, durable and efficient farm buildings.

As agriculture became increasingly industrialized, the focus shifted toward efficiency, productivity and sustainability, providing fertile ground for the emergence of smart farming technology. Today, agricultural buildings are equipped with sensors, automated systems and data analytics tools to monitor and optimize various aspects of farm operations.

Energy efficiency and sustainability have also become key priorities in farm buildings. Buildings designed with solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal heating and cooling systems are fast becoming mainstays on farms and ranches across the country.

The old stone-and-thatch sheds have evolved into smarter, sturdier and more spacious structures adding value beyond simple shelter; these new sheds are becoming critical structures underpinning streamlined operations. Rather than being seen as costly expenses, they’re fastly becoming investments that pay dividends in efficiency and resilience.

Whether customizing functionality for crops, livestock, equipment, or even agritourism activities, today’s adaptable shed architecture can easily be adjusted to cater to sustainable farming practices and diverse agricultural operations.

Farm structures for out-of-field storage date back hundreds of years. They were mainly covered by haystacks or featured open-air roofs for basic shelter. Years later, sheds emerged as enclosed pole barns with stacked roofing to protect against the elements and provide more dedicated storage for equipment, feed or livestock.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that these structures featured engineered steel frame buildings, expanding possible sizes and coverage area. Despite the changes, these traditional structures frequently had minimal functionality beyond storage – where feeding, milking stations, maintenance bays and refrigerated storage were historically handled in separate structures close to operation.

Post-Frame Buildings: A Flexible Solution

Post-frame buildings, also known as pole barns, exemplify flexibility and cost-effectiveness in farm building design. Post-frame construction employs highly engineered laminated wooden posts and robust trusses that not only provide structural strength but also facilitate efficient transfer of wind and snow loads to the foundation.

These iconic buildings are characterized by expansive, unobstructed interior spaces, making them ideal for various farm applications, especially dairy operations, providing efficient, cost-effective and durable structures that support their operations.

Dairy farmers have long been taking full advantage of the versatility pole barns offer. Dairy operations are an easy fit and can be tailored with features like freestall designs, milking parlors, maternity barns and a roof full of solar panels for energy-efficient operations. This flexibility allows farmers to adapt the building to specific livestock or crop needs, maximizing productivity and efficiency by putting everything under one roof.

By incorporating innovative features like polycarbonate panels for sunlight control, smart ventilation systems and strategic insulation, dairy farmers can enhance the performance and longevity of their post-frame buildings.

The transition from traditional timber barns to engineered steel frame buildings in the early 20th century marked a significant shift in farm building construction. Steel frames offered greater structural integrity, allowing for larger and more versatile buildings capable of accommodating mechanized farming equipment and intensive livestock production.

Multi-Purpose Hubs

Many operations are moving toward larger, centralized agricultural structures serving connected needs with equipment maintenance bays, cold storage rooms and grading/processing areas, all under one roof.

In this setup, workers can shift seamlessly between tasks in different sections, maintaining impeccable traceability and operational data flow across domains, as everything is managed through a common hub.

In the same way that ranchers and farmers are seeing everything with a roof as a possible revenue source, they are also getting creative with the spaces underneath the roofs as potential earning opportunities.

Farm owners have expanded beyond traditional farming activities by offering value-added services such as farm-to-table dining restaurants, farm shops selling artisanal products, wine and cheese tastings and outdoor recreational activities like hiking and fishing.

Farmers are increasingly looking for ways to diversify their income streams and adding multi-functional agricultural buildings can easily serve as production facilities, spaces for agritourism or value-added product processing.

That old barn used to house livestock in the winter can also serve as a wedding venue in the spring or as a farm-to-table restaurant after harvest.

The increase in farm property rentals for events and agritourism over the past two decades has been significant, reflecting a growing trend in agricultural diversification and rural tourism. Many farmers have turned to agritourism as a way to supplement traditional agricultural income. Renting out farm properties for events, such as weddings, festivals, farm stays and educational tours, provide ripe revenue streams.

Inching Toward Energy Independence

As we mentioned earlier, nearly everything with a roof has been converted to an array of solar panels to generate significant electrical power. Strategically oriented photovoltaic arrays can minimize a site’s overall grid dependence and slash energy costs over the long term.

Some farms are also pursuing full energy independence from public utilities using sheds as solar hubs, taking advantage of advancements in battery storage technology and power-distribution systems to enhance grid independence.

Integration of solar panels on farm building surfaces generates renewable energy, reducing reliance on traditional power sources and lowering electricity bills.

Engineering for Any Weather

Alongside strength and durability, today’s agricultural shed architecture includes integrated safety enhancements during construction, like secured underground electrical lines, clearly marked and restricted equipment traffic lanes, automated ventilation monitors that expel dangerous gas buildup.

An additional benefit of new shed designs is the level of potential they now have thanks to customization of structures to site-specific needs. Pre-engineered models allow for modification of dimensions, layouts, material selection and component add-ons or subtractions to match intended functions.

Easy configurability during planning stages is critical for matching infrastructure investments to actual workflow parameters. For instance, producers can select automated environmental controls in chick brooder sections of poultry barns or custom hygienic features for dairy housing units. Growers can also integrate specialized ventilation in fruit cold storage rooms or drainage aspects across greenhouse hydroponic bays all within a single structure.

Automation, Optimization and Smart Farming

One of the most prominent trends in agricultural buildings is the integration of smart farming technology. From sensor-equipped barns to automated climate control systems, farms are becoming more data-driven than ever. These technologies help farmers monitor and optimize various aspects of their operations, such as temperature, humidity, feed distribution and can be programmed to adjust ventilation and lighting, creating optimal conditions for livestock health and growth.

Another trend involves integrating automation into shed design for tasks like opening and closing doors or windows via automated sensors that can detect and actually communicate with vendors and initiate door opening to simplify entry/exit while maintaining biosecurity, which is more important than ever with the emergence of Bird Flu in agricultural animals.

Vertical Farming and Controlled Environments

With urbanization on the rise and arable land becoming scarce, farms are no longer exclusively located in far-flung or rural areas. Vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture are gaining traction across the country.

The figurative and literal rise of vertical farming addresses challenges posed by urbanization and land scarcity. Old agricultural buildings are being repurposed or redesigned from the ground up to accommodate vertical farming systems, reducing the need for pesticides and enabling year-round harvesting, making agriculture more resilient to climate change.

These structures use advanced hydroponics and aeroponics systems to grow crops, often without soil. These dirt-free systems are integrated into farm buildings to allow farmers to regulate factors like temperature, humidity and light, remotely and in real time.

Other Factors Propelling Farm Building Development

Government agencies, agricultural organizations and local tourism boards have worked with farmers to promote agritourism as a way to support rural economies, preserve agricultural heritage while also promoting sustainable tourism practices. The widespread use of online platforms like Airbnb, farm tourism websites and an endless stream of popular social media channels have allowed farmers to showcase their properties and attract guests.

With increasing interest in locally sourced food, organic farming and sustainable practices, farm-based events and agritourism activities align with consumer preferences for authentic and environmentally conscious experiences.

With so many opportunities to add value to existing infrastructure and expand earning potential, that old barn is now an opportunity, not an obligation.

Article written by Allen P. Roberts Jr.


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.