LEBANON, Pa. — Kyle Shuey invested about $100,000 toward a merger with Mar-Team Harvesting. “Not many 20-year-olds do that,” the Lebanon County farmer said with a smile. Today, Shuey manages most of the field harvesting through operating two John Deere choppers, tractors and six carts.
His family used to operate a dairy, but now is primarily a poultry operation using Mar-Team to harvest its cornfields, which is how he got to know their crew. He wasn’t extremely interested in animal production, but as he would watch the chopping crew as a “pinch hitter” for Mar-Team, helping them run carts of fresh silage with his 8670 New Holland tractor, there was just something about the whirling pace of the chopper that resonated with Shuey.
“It’s the part of farming I enjoyed the most,” he said.
From the third week of August through mid-October, Monday through Saturday, Shuey and his small team of seven guys, one full time and the rest part time, worked long hours chopping corn from Schuylkill County to Lancaster County. The business has two John Deere choppers, a 7780 with a 10-row disc head and a 7400 with an 8-row head. Shuey says when both are running at full-speed, it requires the entire crew. “Some days are 18-20-hour days,” Shuey said.
As of the week of Oct. 17, Shuey had been clocking in close to 100 hours as he wrapped up the year’s chopping. Sitting in the climate-controlled cab, Shuey balanced his attention among the machine, the computer monitors collecting harvest data and the constant chatter from his crew filling him in on their cart return time. But it’s not all business. Sometimes Shuey and the crew humor themselves through the long hours with their observations and inside jokes.
He laughs, “We have fun.”
The team covers about 4,000 acres during the fall and another 4,000 in spring, harvesting corn, triticale and rye. Most of Mar-Team’s clientele, dairy and beef producers, can expect Shuey and his team running carts and the packing tractor that packs the silage into either the farm’s cement or grounded bunk. About 90% of the customers need the packing tractor, he said. “We come in and do everything.”
While chopping corn silage, Shuey found this year’s weather much better compared to the past year where there’s been too much rain. With the ground being less muddy, it was easier to get in and out fields. Yet, the dryness had a negative effect as the corn didn’t yield what it could have. It also didn’t dry down, he said, and died before it was mature.
According to Penn State Extension, the southeastern part of Pennsylvania benefited from timely rains. But farmers chopping still had to take precautions to avoid the potential growth of nitrate toxicity, caused by the pattern of drought and sudden rainfall before a harvest which allows nitrates to build up within the base of the cornstalk. This risk also follows the silage as it’s placed in an upright silo and can create the deadly gas, nitrogen dioxide.
In the fields, as Shuey was harvesting the week of Oct. 17, the yields were between 22-25 tons an acre of corn silage. Despite the lower tonnage, the silage was delivering on quality, which has been decent and the average moisture levels were in the 60s, “It didn’t get too dry on us,” he said.
For fall, “you didn’t get that tonnage but you got the quality,” Shuey said, but in the spring, it was flip-flopped.
Besides custom chopping, Shuey offers a manure-hauling service through Mar-Team, too. That side of the business was slower this year compared to the past — the lack of rain didn’t fill manure pits up as usual. Shuey also offers his manure clients a sheet of number of fields and the volume that was spread, which helps them with their manure and nutrient management plans, he said.
As winter arrives, Shuey says he is in his machine shop servicing the equipment such as doing the majority of the mechanical repair himself to reduce any chance of breakdowns in the fields during the spring.
There is a fair amount of competition in this business, he said. But he has plans to purchase bigger, higher-capacity holding carts and flotation tires for the choppers to reduce compaction, as that is a concern for many clients.
While he appreciates the pause during the winter months, Shuey is excited to get back in the rhythm of harvesting. Even his wife, Samantha, supports him as she is often in the buddy seat in the evenings after supplying him with dinner so he can keep the beat going.
“I look forward to it all year,” he said.