Machinery Chatter
Jim Patrico Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

Tuesday 08/21/12

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Burned by the drought, a Kentucky farm family started a new business venture this summer: cutting corn for silage, baling it and selling it to beef producers.

Early on, the Turley family of Clay, Ky., thought this year's corn would be pretty good. Not so. "Our corn didn't pollinate and didn't set any ears," said Doug Turley, who raises 3,500 acres of row crops, 500 acres of hay and about 300 cows with his brother Ben and their father Steve. They also background cattle, feeding them to about 800 lbs. "We could have sat around twiddling our thumbs but decided to do something about it."

What the Turleys did was get into the silage business. First step was finding equipment. They contacted Legacy Farm and Lawn, a Lockwood, Mo., farm equipment dealership, with whom they had done business. It carries the McHale Fusion 2, which is a combination silage and hay baler and wrapper. After some discussions, the Turleys leased a machine and started to experiment. They cut standing corn using a John Deere mower/conditioner with a flail for windrowing. Then they rolled out the Fusion 2, which uses 23 knives to size material. Then it builds 1,500- to 2,000-lb. bales, wraps them in plastic and spits them out the back, all on the move.

But the machine was not designed for corn, and at first, it didn't work; stalks clogged the machine. Ben, who has a mechanical engineering degree thought he could solve the problem with a cutting torch. He convinced the Legacy folks to let him give it a try.

It worked. Soon the Turleys were baling 50-60 bales of silage per hour.

Thrilled as they were with their success, at first the Turleys were thinking only about their own feed needs. But, as will happen in farming communities when something new takes place, word got out.

"I'll bet we had a thousand calls," Doug said.

Some neighbors want to buy silage bales. The Turleys were making about 14 bales/acre. At about $50/bale, that was $700/acre gross. "We asked our crop insurance guy about it, and he said it was fine," Doug says.

Even after the Turleys had sold as much as silage they wanted, they still got calls. Cattlemen from near and far asked the Turleys to custom cut and bale their drought-stricken corn. Western Kentucky is big on beef cattle, not so big on dairy cows. Farmers don't have a lot of storage for silage or equipment to move it. So plastic silage bales were attractive because they are compact and portable. Stack them on a flatbed and roll to where the cattle are.

Several other manufacturers make round balers that can handle corn stalks. Vermeer's 650 Super M Cornstalk Special Baler, for instance, is designed specifically for the job.

But if your baler is not designed for cornstalks, be careful when baling cornstalks, especially if they come with root balls and dirt, said Jody McRee, Krone manager of sales for eastern North America. His company sells lots of balers, including the CombiPack models, which pick up forage and silage material and wrap it in plastic bales as the machine moves through the field. They are designed for forage and hay crops, not corn. "Cornstalks can put a lot of wear and tear on a machine, especially on the pickup teeth, which can bend and break," he said.


Posted at 1:39PM CDT 08/21/12 by Jim Patrico
Comments (2)
Very good read Its encouraging when I read that a farmer got innovative and was able to save a crop from a complete loss. I grew up on a farm and now sell bearings to farmers so I fully understand how hard it is to make a living farming these days.
Posted by Kyle Lemon at 11:08AM CDT 08/26/12
Great story Jim, thanks for sharing! Amazing year in agriculture. I look forward to bouncing back.
Posted by chris sandler at 2:10PM CDT 08/27/12
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