Harvester of Opportunity

September 8, 2015 04:05 PM
 
Stan_Boshart_TPOY

Straw market expertise indelibly links producer to Asian dairies, feedlots 

Stan Boshart built his career out of straw starting with a kiddie pool and three feuding friends.

The producer and father of five from Tangent, Ore., watched in 1986 as straw trucks rumbled past his home as he lay in 1-ft.-deep water with two of his young daughters. From an early age, he’d helped his dad farm the fertile Willamette Valley, and he’d grown into his own trucking business hauling just about everything from lime to lumber.   

Now he needed to stay close to home to raise his family, and he desperately wanted to farm again. 

“I wanted to touch that straw,” explains Stan, 56.

Two years later, Stan’s opportunity showed up outside his red office door in the form of three grouchy friends. He’d called a meeting with Richard Boshart, Stan’s brother who is a local farmer; Joe, a farmer and baler; and Duff, a straw buyer. 

“Those three were frustrated with each other,” Stan says. Richard needed the straw off his field; Joe hadn’t been paid for his baling services; and Duff hadn’t paid for the past year and didn’t want to promise payment for the new year. 

One by one, Stan asked whether they’d be willing to work together. One by one, they refused. “When each one of those guys said ‘No,’ I was saying, ‘Yes!’” he recalls.

So Stan offered to pay Joe to bale for Richard and to sell the straw to Duff. The three agreed. 

From Startup To Standout. Stan didn’t know if straw would be profitable, but he needed the money. “I wanted a lot of work,” he says.

Today, he manages a business with annual sales of more than $8 million alongside his wife, Lori, and daughter, Shelly Boshart Davis. The family operates four entities: Boshart Trucking, which ships straw; BOSSCO Trading, which handles international marketing and sales; PressCo, which manages pressing and container loading; and SJB Farms, where Stan grows grass seed, radish seed, wheat and hazelnuts. 

Over time, all five of Stan’s kids, his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews have worked for the family farm. This summer marked the first harvest with one of Stan’s grandchildren operating a tractor. At peak capacity, their team uses 11 balers to custom harvest 25,000 to 28,000 acres owned by about 45 farmers, after which straw is baled, stored, pressed and packed into containers for shipment to dairies and feedlots in Japan and South Korea. 

straw_to_market

Stan’s entrepreneurial development of the straw-harvesting market and his dedication to customer service are some of the many reasons he earned recognition as a 2015 Top Producer of the Year finalist. 

“We have watched Stan and Lori manage the business with not only what makes sense at the time but how will these decisions impact their business in the future, whether it is financially, managerially or for their customers,” says Jeff Johnson, relationship manager with Northwest Farm Credit Services, Stan’s lender for the past 15 years. 

Harvest Comes First. All operations lead up to summer. “To be ready for harvest is our No. 1 goal year-round,” he says. The urgency of harvest proved especially true this year amid dry conditions. Less moisture meant an earlier and condensed harvest window of four weeks versus the typical five and a half.
The planning process begins in May, when the team—including Stan; Shelly, who is vice president of international sales; Eric Martin, operations manager; and Cassie Rugh, human resources and safety manager—put together a plan identifying needs for seasonal workers. Temporary employees include school bus drivers, teachers and teens. This year’s harvest workforce totaled 85.

straw_fork_lift

Boshart Trucking team member Oso Rodriguez moves bales into a barn. Bales are spray-painted with black letters and numbers to indicate the crew chief who helped harvest it and the number of the field from which it came. Photo: Nate Birt


Employing teens is a huge liability, Stan admits, but it enables young people to experience one of the toughest jobs they’ll do while earning up to $12.50 an hour. Students complete a tractor safety course and undergo rigorous on-farm screening. 

“It’s really important that young people are exposed to hard work,” he says. “When we get done with them, they’re qualified workers.”

During harvest, mornings are spent greasing and oiling machines. Raking and baling begins once the dew dries. The team includes operations managers, crew chiefs, raker operators and baler operators.

Each of the operation’s balers can make 400 to 600 bales per day for a total of about 5,500 bales per day. Each bale weighs between 1,000 lb. and 1,200 lb. For all 11 balers, Stan has built accumulators, shelf-like platforms that group and place bales on the ground simultaneously for efficient stacking and pickup. 

Stacked bales are taken from the field and placed onto a fleet of trucks, which put away an average of 60 loads per day into one of 14 barns. Each barn holds roughly 7,000 tons of straw. 

Ship Out. Straw is marketed internationally over the next 10 months. Because straw isn’t a commodity, Stan doesn’t do forward contracting. Overseas customers order straw as they need it. The Bosharts work directly with Asian dairy and beef farms with which they’ve cultivated relationships over the past 15 years.

Shelly joined the operation full-time nine years ago and has implemented systems to secure sales and nurture those relationships. 

“The marketing is really a negotiation between the customer and the supplier,” Shelly says.  

That includes reassuring buyers that when straw color varies because of weather or field conditions, it remains of the same quality, she says.  

To Stan, straw is the equivalent of the potato in a steak-and-potato dinner. Cows need 2 lb. of daily protein and 15 lb. of roughage, the latter of which straw provides. It might not get the glory protein enjoys, but it remains a vital part of the diet. 

The price the Bosharts get for straw is determined by several factors. First is the yen-dollar exchange rate, which in late August stood at roughly 124 yen to one U.S. dollar. That has made U.S. straw less competitive than two years ago. 

Second are typhoons, which can damage Asian rice straw crops and drive purchases of U.S. straw higher. 

Shelly travels internationally one or two times each year and visits livestock operations as well as straw storage facilities to understand customers’ needs. Stan’s Willamette Valley-based PressCo business entity, which presses and packs straw for export, has several packaging types including sleeves and plastic straps. The business has changed the way it handles the crop to improve ease of unloading and stacking overseas. In the early 2000s, they expanded their farm office to two stories because buyers wanted evidence of the operation’s successfulness. Stan bought a red Ford pickup and arrived at the airport before farm tours wearing a cowboy hat. “They feel like they are getting part of America for them to enjoy,” he says. 

Although Shelly says people sometimes call her Stan—“so I must be doing something right”—she notes he has an innate ability to turn numbers into business decisions.

“He is able to see things that a lot of people can’t,” she explains.

Port To Orchard. Transportation problems outside of Stan’s control dramatically changed shipment dynamics this past year. Moreover, the crop makeup of the valley is changing. Both factors have led Stan to critically assess how he will do business in the future. 

straw_bales

Team member bridger Martin, 14, uses a bale scoop to squeeze bales into a stack. Stacks are placed on the ground for loading. This marked the first year on the farm for Bridger, whose father is operations manager Eric Martin.
Photo: Nate Birt


On the transportation side, West Coast ports slowed down for months beginning in November during a contract dispute by longshoremen. The Bosharts paid thousands in unanticipated overtime for truckers and booking changes. 

It will take one to three years to determine whether the slowdown scared buyers into purchasing products from other locations. 

Consumer demands are also changing. Stan recognizes the region’s farmers will potentially plant less rye grass for seed in the future, resulting in less turf seed and straw production. Grass seed remains valuable for cover crops and cattle pastures but is less sought out for lawns amid water scarcity concerns. As a result, Stan is planting hazelnuts to diversify his crop mix. They are growing in popularity as a health food, plus they “go into chocolate candy bars great,” Stan says. 

In the past two years, Stan has planted 28 acres to hazelnuts. It will take four years for the trees to begin yielding enough to harvest with maximum yield at 12 to 13 years. 

Driven By Partnerships. In 1950, local farmers helped Stan’s dad, Merrill, adapt to Oregon’s agriculture and climate after relocating to the state. The Bosharts trace their roots to Nebraska corn and hog farmers. 

Although Stan says his dad never strived for financial success, he was a hard worker and someone who put his church and family first. Stan himself didn’t always enjoy financial success, so he draws inspiration from his father’s leadership and endurance. 

“I need a word that describes my first years of farming,” Stan says.
“You mean broke?” Lori quips.

“Challenging is a very polite word,” explains Stan, referring to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. “They were awful. It was a test of endurance. It was like a seven-year marathon.”

Today, Stan has forged close working relationships with buyers, local farmers and suppliers. He praises his local equipment dealership, Linn Benton Tractor Co., for its leadership under service manager Roy Garman and employees’ ability to arrive on site to repair machinery within 15 minutes of a breakdown. 

We have gained an appreciation of how Stan manages his operations through good times and when things are tough,” Garman says. “His standards of excellence help in making well-informed decisions under any circumstance.” 

Stan is particularly proud of his children, all of whom continue to live in the Willamette Valley. He says they have learned from his mistakes. “My children had to participate in my struggles simply by being children,” Stan says. “Out of those struggles, just like I watched my dad and improved on his ideas, I hope the same for my kids.” 

As a trucker and producer dedicated to the highest standards of excellence, Stan has become the engine that will drive the Bosharts’ operation into the future. 

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Comments

 
Spell Check

Alan
Abilene, KS
9/10/2015 12:35 PM
 

  baling straw is a total waste of natural resources some people are foolish enough to believe there's big money in baling straw but all their doing is robbing nutrients for future crops around here its break even proposition when you take time labor machine costs into account , but I guess gives some people jobs too I would say sharpen your pencils fellas and make sure its a worthy endeavor

 
 
Shelly Boshart Davis
Albany, OR
9/10/2015 02:39 PM
 

  Hey Alan – Shelly here, Stan’s daughter. On our grass seed farm and in Oregon, farmers all prefer burning the straw off the field as that is the best use of natural resources. Unfortunately starting in the 1970’s it started to get outlawed. More and more fights in the Oregon Legislature ensued over the course of many decades and today, field burning is outlawed in most cases. Considering we are the “grass seed capital of the world,” there was a lot of straw on the ground post-harvest of the grass seed. The straw baling and exporting industry started because of this – it was virtually unheard of beforehand. At the beginning it literally was the only option as grass seed farmers didn’t “chop” or “flail” at the time, and this removed the straw so that they could continue to farm the ground. Over time, farmers along with a lot of research from Oregon State University, have studied how the soil deals with straw removal via baling or chopping the straw to break down into the soil. Every farmer every year makes that financial decision to bale or chop, and we as grass seed farmers have put a pencil to it year after year and make that determination. The financial benefits are weighed in, as are pest control options i.e. slugs, voles, etc. In addition to the resource we are to grass seed farmers, the grass straw export industry brought over $650,000,000 into the Oregon economy last year and was Port of Portland’s #1 export. This grass straw is used as fiber overseas in Japan and Korea’s beef and dairy cattle industry. Just like farmers all over the US, we help feed the world. We’re proud of all of the above and will continue to be a resource and a choice to Oregon’s grass seed farmers.

 
 
Macey Wessels
Scio, OR
9/10/2015 03:46 PM
 

  Alan- Your statement is correct that by bailing and removing straw off of a grass field will reduce a little bit of nutrients and organic matter that could be left otherwise left in the field. That being said, your perspective is very narrow and unfortunately does not take into account the whole picture. Not removing straw provides a perfect habitat for pests and makes it even harder to control them. Therefore more pesticides will be put out. If you choose to keep a full straw load and work it back into the soil, it requires more ground work than if you were to remove it. Therefore more fuel is used to do the ground work. More trips are made across the field, so more soil compaction. Also more food source is put into the ground for pests, so more pesticides are used to control them. These are only a few examples of how bailing is used in a whole system. Leaving a straw load can be a useful tool in some situations, just like taking straw has its own benefits. All of these are tools that we as farmers need to have readily available. We make decisions for our ground based on long term goals and planning. We are stewards to our land and make decisions not only based on the bottom line but on soil health and overall less inputs. We lost field burning which had a snow ball effect on everything we did. It increased our input costs and pesticide usage by as much as triple. You are allowed to have your own opinion but I encourage you to look at the whole picture. The pencil needs to be sharp for the next 100 years, not just today and not just in that moment.

 
 

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