This spring, there was no shortage of rain in Kansas. While it created a few hiccups for planting, it’s also creating a few challenges for custom harvesters this year.
So far, feed quality of this year’s crop is on par and demand for choppers at equipment dealers like PrairieLand Partners is picking up.
Technology is changing the game for Sam Schippers’ custom harvester business in Hoxie, Kan. He’s able to track things like moisture and yield from his phone, which then helps his crew become more efficient.
The three-chopper crew runs nonstop from Texas to Kansas.
“It varies, but on average I’m somewhere between 950 to 1200 hours a year per machine,” said Schippers.
In Iowa, Gary Wichers works on an 1,100-head dairy, running one chopper for feed each year. In 2017, hay season is underway with Wichers’ first cutting already under his belt.
“They hay crop has been pretty good,” said Wichers.
Schippers has been in the field for roughly three months. While miles away, both operators turn to PrairieLand Partners to do business, and Uri Miller, forage harvester salesman, says it’s technology helping raise the bar with quality feed.
“With the technology that we have in these choppers, it’s like making wine,” he said. “You wouldn’t put used sour grapes and expect wine. With the technology we have now, we can monitor the starch, the protein, the moisture before it ever gets to the pit.”
Whether it’s running a three-chopper crew or operating one machine, both Wichers and Schippers say they can’t afford downtime.
“When you’re chopping irrigated corn in the Corn Belt, it’s somewhere around $18 a minute I lose,” said Schippers.
Operators are creating strong demand for choppers, saying they are looking to expand.
Machinery Pete says the chopper market is a tricky one to track.
“It’s interesting with choppers—a little like planters where you’ll see the demand to buy new can be very strong,” said Machinery Pete. “You’ll have dealers that don’t have enough choppers to sell.”
Depressed commodity prices have made equipment a tough sell for the past few years. Each month, Creighton University releases a Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) providing a pulse of the ag economy through the eyes of rural bankers. The latest report showed the ag equipment sales index jumped to its highest level in more than two years.
“It actually jives perfectly with the quarterly index we put out and our index started to inch up in November,” said Machinery Pete.
However, he says there’s still plenty of used equipment to purchase.
“We’re still recovering,” he said. “There was a lot of used equipment on dealer lots three to four years ago when commodity prices fell and it’s been a process to get that cleared out and it’s not solved, but it’s much better.”
While the rest of 2017’s story is still untold, plentiful moisture and the promise of a bountiful wheat crop is moving moods in Kansas.