Wisconsin applicator stays current with technology
March 4, 2008 by Tony Kryzanowski
Wisconsin based custom manure
applicator, Russell Robaidek runs a tight ship insofar as his business
is concerned and he sleeps pretty well most nights. However, that
confident calm has only come from long-term experience in a business
that has seen its fair share of challenges along the way. He owns
Russell Robaidek Inc. along with his wife, Kris. The business is
headquartered at Pulaski, Wisconsin, about 15 miles west of Green Bay.
At present, he injects or applies about 120 million gallons annually.
Wisconsin based custom manure applicator, Russell Robaidek runs a tight ship insofar as his business is concerned and he sleeps pretty well most nights. However, that confident calm has only come from long-term experience in a business that has seen its fair share of challenges along the way. He owns Russell Robaidek Inc. along with his wife, Kris. The business is headquartered at Pulaski, Wisconsin, about 15 miles west of Green Bay. At present, he injects or applies about 120 million gallons annually.
|Wisconsin based custom manure applicator Russell Robaidek stays up-to-date on the latest application technology. His company owns three Hydro Engineering drag hose application systems.|
Close to 90 percent of his customers are dairy farms, intentionally in the 1000 cow herd or less category. He has learned from experience that it is much easier to build personal relationships and repeat business with smaller customers, although he would not turn away business from larger operations if the circumstances were right. If there is any sage advice he can pass on, it is to ensure there is an ironclad commitment from larger dairy farms to use your services for a defined period of time before making major purchases to meet their needs.
Russell Robaidek Inc. has managed to maintain and expand its client base not only because of the quality work the company does, but also because management makes a supreme effort to apply the manure at a time that is convenient to the customer. This is as opposed to some custom manure applicators that will insist on servicing all their customers in a particular area before moving on.
“If a customer calls me, I honestly ask them when they want it done,” Robaidek says. “I can usually accommodate them within two or three days, if not on the exact day they want me.” That type of service builds loyalty. His largest customer is also one of his first customers. That dairy started with 60 cows 15 years ago and now has grown to a herd of 1200.
|Russell Robaidek has made a supreme effort to provide the most professional application services possible.|
Early on, Robaidek showed he was prepared to work hard to succeed in his business, helping his father build concrete silos by day while working nights and weekends to establish his custom application business. In 1994, he decided he wanted to make his living from this line of work and in 2000, he sold his 80 head dairy herd to focus entirely on his business. “At the time, milk prices were down in the dumps,” Robaidek says. “I’m the type of guy that if I am not going to make money, then I’m not going to do it. We’re making a living at it (manure application). We do charge a premium price, but we feel if we are making money, we can update our equipment when we need to and be there for our customers next year.”
Over the years, Russell Robaidek Inc. has consistently invested in some of the best performing manure application equipment available, offering customers the option of injection or surface application, as well as transport of the organic material to the application site using tankers, a drag hose system, or a combination of both. Robaidek says he has noticed a significant change in attitude amongst his customers as to the importance they put on advanced planning and proper application.
“Years back when I first started out, people just emptied their pit and got rid of it,” he says. “Now, they all know that it is a fertilizer and we’re covering more acres than we ever did.” Many now guide their activities with detailed nutrient management plans to ensure the manure is disposed of safely and for maximum nutrient benefit.
While manure is now handled more safely under government supervision through a three year requirement to follow an approved nutrient management plan for any new manure storage pits, this trend has added to Robaidek’s costs by making the application process less efficient in some cases.
|Using the Houle tank and injection system has made it possible for custom applicator, Russell Robaidek to do more business with dairy farms using sand bedding.|
“At one time, we were putting 20,000 gallons per acre and now, sometimes they’ve got it down to 6000 gallons per acre,” he says. “We’re covering a lot more acres with the same amount of manure.” It has particularly impacted on the management of his drag hose systems. It requires a lot more tearing down and setting up, and whereas he may have been able to apply the manure on two fields, now he is sometimes required to run his system to eight different fields in eight different directions.
Another trend is a major shift to injection over surface application, something Robaidek appreciates. At present, about 80 percent of the manure he handles is injected. “I feel better about injecting it into the ground,” he says. “I don’t have to worry about heavy rains or anything related to the runoff.” Because the area around Green Bay also has many residential subdivisions, injection is a superior application method because it drastically reduces odor. Finally, farmers benefit because injection helps to sequester nitrogen in the soil.
Robaidek’s equipment fleet has grown steadily along with advances in custom application. Today, he operates three 7300 gallon Houle tankers with injectors, which were purchased within the last three years. “The Houle tankers that the competition in the area were operating were holding up pretty well, and it just so happened that we have a strong and reputable local dealer,” says Robaidek. “Price wise, they are a lot more money but it just seems for durability, they are by far better than anything else out there.”
Opting for Houle tankers and injectors also allowed the company to conduct more business with dairies that are using sand bedding, something Robaidek had avoided because of how sand can cause havoc with some equipment. This is a growing issue with many custom manure applicators doing business with dairies, as the use of sand bedding is definitely on the upswing. While some of the larger dairies have installed sand separators to separate the organic matter from the sand – thus allowing the dairy to reuse the sand – many still do not.
“Now with these Houle tankers, we are not afraid to tackle sand any more,” Robaidek says. The intake agitation with the pumps makes all the difference, he adds. “If there is a two stage pit, we’ll handle the water part of it with the drag hose,” he says, “but with the heavy laden sand, we’ve found the best way to get the pit clean is to mix it like a mud and take it out with the tankers. They can handle it.”
Russell Robaidek Inc. is also capable of operating three Hydro Engineering drag hose injection systems with pumps capable of transporting effluent up to four miles. Two of the drag hose systems can inject manure up to 20 feet wide in one pass, and the third can inject it up to 24 feet.
“When we purchase equipment, we like to have a dealer or a company that is reputable enough to have the support to help us if we need it,” says Robaidek. “That’s why we went with Hydro Engineering with our hose systems. It seems that Hydro Engineering is the most knowledgeable and the most helpful.” Because there were no drag hose dealers close by, being able to get quality advice over the phone was critical. “They weren’t the cheapest,” says Robaidek, “but they were the most helpful.” He adds that reliability is his top priority when making an equipment purchase.
|Russell Robaidek believes there is a greater awareness among farmers of the importance of the nutrient value of manure as a hedge against the cost of expensive commercial fertilizers.|
Supplementing these systems are four Houle pumps, two capable of agitation and pumping; three N-Tech prop agitators; and a Vandale pump. To pull the tanks and drag hoses in the field, Russell Robaidek Inc. uses seven Case IH tractors. All have at least 200 horsepower. He adds that the company does occasionally operate four semi-trailer tanker trucks to transport the manure from the pit to the disposal site. They can be loaded from the bottom and are often unloaded from the road into an 18,000 gallon frac tank sitting closer to the application site. “We stay out of the fields as much as possible with the semi trucks because it’s so hard on the ground and driveways,” says Robaidek.
While the company does most of its business within a 120 miles radius of home, it has also gone as far as Virginia, where Robaidek says the company’s Aer-Way implement is particularly useful. The Aer-Way is helpful for applying manure because it has minimal impact on the grass vegetation but can still overcome the hardpan created by regular disposal of manure effluent using irrigation systems coupled with the large amount of rainfall that the area has experienced.
“They needed someone to visibly put it in the ground, to get as much of it out on the ground as possible, and they needed it to go into the ground,” Robaidek says. “We were actually picking up acreage for them because their pivots weren’t reaching the whole field.” He adds the Aer-Way also meets the needs of his zero-till customers who want minimal ground disturbance as well as manure application on hay meadows.
Robaidek concludes that he is satisfied with the size of his business right now. He credits his working partnership with wife Kris – who takes care of the office duties – for a great deal of the business’ success.