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Froese Brothers’ custom silage business increases efficiency with the golden rule

Progressive Forage Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 26 May 2016
Austin (left) and Ray (right)

A Kansas family talks about 60-year-old custom harvesting practices that make them profitable.

Just like the old adage, “with age comes wisdom,” Froese Brothers Custom Harvesting, out of Inman, Kansas, is a business many can learn from.

For the past 60 years, the Froese family business – now owned by Ray Froese and his two sons, Beau and Austin – have harvested grain and silage for producers, cattle feeders and dairymen across the Midwest.

Beau (dad) and his sons Micah and Timothy

Like many of their fellow custom harvesters, the entire Froese family spends the months of April through November following the harvest. With six trailer houses, three for the Froeses and three for the crew, they have learned to make their customer’s home their “home away from home.”

In doing so, they have developed a “treat others the way you would like to be treated” mindset that has essentially made them notable in the industry.

Efficiency is always the best policy

When the Froese crew show up, they are ready to chop. There’s no wondering when they will show up, or how long it will take them to get their equipment up and running. They understand that with this business, time is precious; any delay could affect their reputation, and most importantly, the customer’s chop quality.

“We know that we are responsible for getting our customers’ crops out in a timely manner,” Beau Froese says. “If something is wrong with the equipment at the end of the day, we work on it as long as it takes so that it will be ready to go the next morning."

"When some crews have issues with their equipment, they may contact a dealer and wait for a mechanic to show up and then wait for him to fix that issue. There are very few instances where we have to do that.”

In a situation where a piece of equipment isn’t running like it should, Beau Froese says that they find a way to make the broken equipment “limp along” long enough to get them by. Each crew member knows that they are not only responsible for their own equipment, but also will do what it takes to accomplish as much as possible each day, he says.

On a typical day, the Froese crew can chop roughly 120 acres or 3,000 tons of irrigated corn – if hauled less than 3 or 4 miles and assuming everything goes without a hitch. With their bigger jobs, between 20,000 to 60,000 tons, their goal is to finish in two weeks or less. They also have some small jobs that may only take a couple of hours.

A peek into their routine

Once the crew is fed breakfast and the choppers are fired-up and running, the Froeses push to have the first load across the scale by 7 a.m. The crew works at a steady pace until 7 p.m., with a short lunch break at noon. The goal is to keep the trucks running one load after another to maintain that steady pace all day long.

After 7 p.m. rolls around, the crew shuts down and takes about 30 to 40 minutes to service the equipment. The knives are sharpened, the tires are checked and any necessary repairs are made so that everything is ready to go again the next morning.

As Ray Froese points out, “It’s a business that when it’s time to harvest, the goal is to get it out of the field as quickly as possible.”

Typically when they start a job, at least one of the Froeses will meet up with the customer to look at the field and the pit or pile where the silage will be stored and review any other expectations the customer may have. During that time, the crew unloads the equipment and makes any necessary preparations. Beau Froese says they can usually begin chopping within 30 minutes of pulling into the yard.

Most of the Froeses’ roles are very similar, with the majority of their time spent in the pickup watching each aspect of what’s going on.

Chopping tritlcale in Western Kansas

They try to maintain their efficiency by doing things such as making sure the truck drivers understand the route to and from the field to avoid congestion, and they try to uphold a steady rhythm between the trucks and the choppers.

Beau Froese says, “Just like a coach watches his team compete, we’re watching to make sure each team member is where they are supposed to be, doing what they’re supposed to be doing and getting better at it each day."

"We’re anticipating the next play and trying to catch mistakes before they happen, so that we don’t have to spend as much time repairing the damage that has been done.”

When things are running according to plan, Beau Froese says their roles begin to differentiate a bit. He is more of the administrative type and handles the finances and the hiring of the crew; Austin keeps things moving through the shop in the winter and is good with organizing the crew; while Ray focuses on sales and networking with customers and other harvesters.

Standing up and standing out

Unlike many custom harvesters where “every day counts,” the Froeses make it a priority to take Sundays off when they can. Beau Froese points out there are instances when they end up working on Sunday, but for the most part their Sundays are a day of rest and worship.

“It’s gradually getting harder to make that happen as the rest of the world goes the other way and doesn’t see Sunday different than any other,” Beau Froese says. “With most people every hour counts, seven days a week and we try to take it off if we can, and we’ve been able to keep our business running while doing that. It’s something we’ve tried to do from the very beginning.”

Just like their commitment to their beliefs, the Froeses are committed to making an enjoyable working environment for their employees – and it seems to be working.

Each year the Froeses get about 200 applications for an 18-person seasonal crew. Most of these potential employees, usually in their mid-20s or just out of high school, grew up on a family farm and are looking to get experience elsewhere. They have either heard about Froese Brothers from a relative or friend that had previously worked there, or through the Froese Brothers’ Facebook page or website.

The Froese home, shop and equipment lineup near Inman, Kansas

The Froeses work hard to hire a crew that will represent the business well. To do that, Beau Froese says, “We try to hire a crew that will get along with each other, work hard, have great attitudes, use clean language and that will be respectful and teachable. We often get compliments about our crew and we know that comes from hiring the right people and taking good care of them.”

Staying competitive

By networking with other harvesters, the Froeses work hard to stay competitive with others in the industry. He explains that if for any reason they are not able to make it to a job on time, they have a network of custom harvesters that they will call for a replacement. He says it gives those harvesters a few extra days of work and in return, keeps their customers happy.

Sub-contractors are used for some of their silage hauling and silage packing. While they haul their own equipment, they sub-contract with some trucking and packing companies to essentially “lighten the load” and to provide additional expertise.

When looking at how much the business has grown, Ray Froese believes it’s “all about giving the customers what they want and adapting to fit their needs.”

He says wherever he goes he has a neighbor in every state because they’ve learned how to treat their customers like family and to treat their customers’ farms like it’s their own.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Austin (left) and Ray (right) have a tailgate meeting in the field.

PHOTO 2: Beau (generation three), with Micah and Timothy (generation four) just before leaving home in the spring of 2015.

PHOTO 3: Chopping triticale in Western Kansas.

PHOTO 4: The Froese home, shop and equipment lineup near Inman, Kansas. Photos courtesy of Beau Froese.

Cassidy Woolsey
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