Above Photo: The sharp as spears Bt corn stalks left in the field during harvest can result in significant stubble damage to equipment tires. Devices have been developed that can be attached to the corn head and flatten stalks to minimize tire damage.
Photo Courtesy of May Wes Mfg.
It was the perfect storm for product development: the advent of new hybrid Bt corn varieties developed to reduce the need for insecticides, thus improving crop yields and reducing labor, left spear-sharp, tree trunk-like stalks capable of piercing expensive tractor, combine and implement tires. All of a sudden, there was a rapidly growing need for products that could bend over or mangle these corn stalks so they didn’t damage the equipment tires.
As the problem grew, farmers demanded an answer. A group of suppliers responded with different product designs, and what emerged were devices that could be mounted on corn headers that would flatten the stalks after they were cut during harvest. These devices have become commonly known as “stalk stompers,” for the lack of a better name. Farm Equipment spoke with a group of dealers who sell these devices to determine the keys to succeeding in selling this equipment.
New Corn Heads Increase Demand
Wade Plessner, salesman for James River Equipment in Madison, S.D., says the dealership has been offering the Lankota Stalk Stomper for a number of years, but sales really took off when a new corn head design arrived on the market. “We’ve been selling it heavily since 2008, and what prompted us to start selling more was the introduction of a new generation of chopping corn heads and the damage that the hardened stalk does to the tires,” says Plessner. He is referring to John Deere’s 600C StalkMaster chopping corn head introduced in late 2007 and first sold the following year. “It cuts the cornstalk off about 6 inches above the ground leaving a hard, sharp edge. There was a large amount of damage being done to tires on combines, tractors and grain carts that year. At the same time, the Bt corn stalks had become a lot tougher, so both factors together prompted customers to start searching for a tool to manage the danger.
“We were having tires on combines literally destroyed in one year, and guys were having to replace the back tires after one harvest, the stalks were chewing them up that bad. After that first year we started selling all kinds of stalk stompers,” says Plessner. “Now, we’re putting some form of a stalk stomper on just about every chopping corn head we sell, unless the customer just specifically doesn’t want them.”
In Plessner’s trade area, selling devices doesn’t involve educating farmers about the dangers of tire damage. “They know and you don’t have to sell too hard, because they’ve seen the tractors or combines that we’ve traded from customers without stalk stompers and what those tires look like.”
The biggest challenge to selling the product has been inconvenience. “They’re not terribly expensive, but if you have to put the corn head on and take it off the combine, sometimes the stalk stompers are in the way, especially when putting the head on a trailer. It just takes a little more time.” But the return on investment can justify the hassle, he says. “Let’s say a farmer invests $3,000-$4,000 in a set of stompers. That’s a pretty cheap investment when one tire, on a 4WD tractor can cost that much.”
Protect Tires, Speed Decomposition
Gary Fennig owns Fennig Equipment Sales in Coldwater, Ohio, and his first experience with Yetter’s Stalk Devastator was on his own machine. “I’ve been selling the product for roughly 5 years now, and we actually used our combine on our farm as a test project for the equipment. We installed it underneath our corn head and the first time we used it, I could see that this attachment would be a huge hit, because of what it does to the cornstalks.”
Recent developments that make the devices for flattening corn stalks easier to use include quick attach and disconnect designs that expedite installation, adjustment and shoe removal.
Photo Courtesy of Lankota
In addition to piercing equipment tires, Bt corn stalks tend to be larger and tougher than conventional varieties, which also makes them more difficult to breakdown and decompose.
Fennig spent a couple of years promoting the product through demonstrations, field days and farm shows and it took some time to get it off the ground. Fennig says, “Since then, sales have increased every year and the farmers who have the system installed on their corn heads are very happy with the product.”
He says he likes this particular product as much for residue management as for tire protection. “The advent of Roundup-Ready corn and the fact that a lot of farmers were going back to corn for a continuous number of years helped increase demand and yields have been increasing nearly every year. The residue just keeps mounting in these cornfields, but this product not only takes care of tires, it also speeds up residue breakdown over the winter. When they go back into the fields in the spring, a lot of the material is gone because of what the Stalk Devastator does to the corn stalk.”
While Fennig’s dealership has sold over 100 of the systems in his area, he says the concept has taken some time to get off the ground. “If an adjoining farmer see’s what’s going on with a set in a neighboring field, he starts asking questions and soon we have another sale. There’s no specific type of farmer who buys the product, because it applies to them all. If you grow corn, the Devastator can work for your operation.”
Example of Fennig Equipment's use of YouTube
The dealership promotes the product with its advertising efforts, but it also gets a lot of folks who see how the product performs on Fennig’s combines in his operation. The dealership also utilizes YouTube and shows video of its personal experiences with different products they sell (see above video). Fennig is pleased with how well the YouTube channel is working. “A farmer can sit in his living room and see everything that he wants to see vs. going to a farm show and walking around all day.”
When selling this particular product, Fennig explains the benefit of better residue control. “My main sales pitch is that the root ball is broken out of the ground, yet it’s still attached. So in heavy rains, or in wind, during the winter, the corn fodder stays in the field. You’re not having it blowing over to the neighbors or clogging up drainage areas.”
Fennig has seen two major barriers to selling the product. First, customers wonder if it’ll fit on the header trailer. “That depends on the trailer,” Fennig says. “If it’s a homemade trailer that has the bigger tires, like a car tire, we might have some issues, and that varies with the brand of head. If it’s an OEM trailer with smaller tires, like a golf cart tire, it’ll fit just fine.”
The other issue is convincing the farmer he doesn’t have to change anything just because the product is on the combine. “He’s going to operate the corn head just like he did before he installed it. Once you have it mounted, you really don’t know it’s under there; you don’t change the way you use the combine.”
Corn Stalks & No-Till
Curt Diemer is corporate after sales manager for Sievers Equipment Co. with 5 locations in Illinois and one in Missouri. He says the dealership made a corporate decision to promote May Wes Mfg.’s stalk stompers ordered through Case IH. “The tires on rental and lease tractors that would come back from customers had excessive stubble damage. To counter that, we really put the push on to sell stalk stompers to all customers who had corn heads to reduce the damage on rental returns.”
In Diemer’s area, a lot of the larger combines are on dual wheels, which run in between cornrows, so damage on combines wasn’t as big of an issue. Where tire wear really showed was on tractors and implements doing tillage on an angle with the previous crop. “You’re almost constantly running on stalks.” As crop genetics improved, the stalks and tire damage became more of an issue, leading to a 21% increase in the dealer’s sale of stalk stompers from 2013 to 2014.
Stalk stompers not only flatten cut corn stalks to minimize tire damage, but also can help facilitate the decomposition of bt stalks.
Although many stomper-type products can be sold as aftermarket add-ons, the best time to sell them is when the customer is shopping for a new corn head.
The purchase of stompers is easy to justify when comparing their cost vs. the cost of regularly replacing stubble-damaged ag tires.
Diemer says many farmers don’t fully grasp the agronomic benefit of the stalk stompers in residue control. “When you break that stalk over, the remainder of the plant is laying on the ground. When you look at a wood fence post in the ground, where does it rot? It doesn’t rot above the ground, it usually rots right at ground level. So with the stalk laying flat on the ground you’re going to see decomposition and the rotting process breaking it up and getting nutrients back into the soil. If it’s sticking up in the air all winter long, it doesn’t rot, it’s just as solid as it was when it was harvested.”
This message especially speaks to the folks who are using no-till. “It’s increasingly become an issue with no-tillers, because of all of the residue on the ground and there continues to be more of it. They struggle to get rid of it for planting purposes.”
Regardless of the farm size, agronomic practices or farming philosophy, anyone with a corn head is a prospect. Diemer says, “Everybody’s going to have the same issue and actually a smaller operation with a smaller combine on single tires is a better candidate than someone running duals. Other good candidates are the guys who run tracks on combines. Unless they have a narrow track, they’re constantly running on top of stalks as well. Stubble damage will hurt tracks just as much as wheels and track replacement can run $6,000 or more.
“We’re after everybody. Anyone who walks through the door, we try to promote it. We talk about it at combine clinics and any time we are in front of the customer in an audience-type setting. We also have a static display of the stompers set up in the showroom of all of our stores.”
Diemer likes to show customers the simplicity of the product in the sales presentation. “To install it on the head, it’s a very easy process. It doesn’t take several days of work to put a set on.” The removal of the shoe on the mounting bracket has been simplified with the latest generation of the product. “A one-handed guy could do this. There’s a ring that helps you pull a pin out and you slide it back and it’s off the bracket. You reverse the process to install it.”
According to dealers who have had success selling devices that can flatten corn stalks and reduce tire damage, this equipment can also provide a measure of residue management for Bt corn stalks that don’t decompose easily.
Photo Courtesy of MayWes Mfg.
Suggested retail on the May Wes product is $650 a pair to cover two rows. So, that means to cover the entirety of an 8-row head the total would be $2,600. Diemer admits that there are growing numbers of manufacturers who have entered the market, trying to get a piece of the pie. “We’re not the most expensive and we’re not the cheapest, it’s our job to bring out the benefits of our design so they understand the value in our price.”
Who’s Selling Stompers?
One obstacle for many dealerships selling comparable products is the person doing the selling, says Diemer. In many dealerships these products are under the jurisdiction of the parts department, while the best time to sell them is when a customer is buying a new combine from the sales department. “At the time of a sale it’s easy for the salesman to say, ‘Hey do you want stompers?’ If the customer says ‘no,’ sometimes the process could stop there rather than really going into a good sales pitch with it.” Diemer says when owners of the company mandated the selling of the product to minimize tire damage on rental tractors, the sales department proved fully capable of selling large numbers of the product.
He sees the market for stomper-type products eventually reaching almost 100% of the number of new heads sold. “I don’t see the stalks getting any softer. The biggest challenge for the seed companies is keeping that corn up in the air, with the plant getting close to the end of it’s life, and windstorms and corn borers threatening to knock it down, they want that stalk as tough as possible. Tires aren’t going to get any cheaper and the rubber tends to be softer for ‘ride’ purposes. The product demand has been similar to that of guidance systems. Ten years ago, it was a challenge to get a farmer to look at them and now most tractors are guidance equipped.” Diemer expects stalk stompers to experience the same sales trend.
The only cloud on the horizon for selling this product may be the type of machine they’re mounted on. Diemer says that soybean stubble is becoming almost as big an issue for tires as corn stalks. He speculates that since a product that can go on a platform and won’t interfere with a floating cutterbar hasn’t been developed, the stalk killers in the future may migrate to being installed on the front of tractors instead of combine heads.
It appears that most farmers are aware of the potential tire damage from upright cornstalks. Successfully selling products to eliminate the problem may involve education about the added benefits of breaking down residue. Only corn farmers on the tightest budgets, or those with incompatible header trailers, appear to be outside of the field of potential customers for corn stalk stomper-type products.