Cedar City, Utah
Founder and President Dave Staheli came up with a better way to bale hay nearly 20 years ago, but the concept only got off the drawing board after he started making the machines in Utah in 2010.
In the 1990s, Staheli managed a 2,000-acre hay operation in Cedar City and got to thinking after watching the kitchen staff at a taco shop.
His "inspiration from heaven" originally sprung from the tortillas in little steam-powered ovens. "I'd seen the girls at taco restaurants steaming tortillas," he says. Instead of waiting for natural dew, he figured he could simulate dew with steam in order to bale hay around the clock in most any climate.
Staheli went home and used a pressure cooker to bale some dry alfalfa hay. "It worked so well," he says of the result. The success led him to make a steamer that would allow users to bale hay for a longer period of time each day. In dry climates, the high heat and low humidity can make conventional baling impossible beyond a couple hours a night, but Staheli's machines can typically run all day and night, regardless of the weather.
That innovation results in considerable more daily hay output than the industry's traditional technology. The company touts that one of its DewPoint 6110-equipped balers can replace three or four conventional balers.
Staheli developed prototypes between 1995 and 1997 to prove the concept and patented his invention. He subsequently licensed the technology out to a major ag manufacturer, but it languished on the drawing board. When rights reverted to Staheli in 2006, he took them back and launched manufacturing in Utah with Staheli West.
At that time, Staheli spurned other potential licensees to do it himself. "Several companies were interested, but I decided it this was going to get done, it's going to have to be me to do it," he says.
A prototype was baling hay in the field by 2008 and the company went to market in 2010. Staheli West has made about 200 machines in the five years since, and sales have jumped every year. "We've doubled each year on average," says Staheli.
The company's staff has more than doubled from eight employees in early 2013 to 20 today. Notes Staheli: "Our productivity is getting better and better."
On Staheli West's DewPoint 6110, a computer-controlled moisture meter from Australia-based Gazeeka detects the humidity in order to apply the right amount of steam from an onboard boiler. The operator can see the results in real-time and make adjustments.
The company uses components from a variety of suppliers to make its steamers. "Our model is to use services and goods from other businesses in the local area," says Staheli, citing vendors ranging from fabrication shops to powder-coating operations. All of the parts are assembled in Cedar City.
Staheli West is something of a family operation. Three of Staheli's sons work for the company, along with his brother and son-in-law. "They're all key players in the business," says Staheli.
Challenges: "Marketing has been hard and aftermarket support has been important," says Staheli. "Those take a little more work than manufacturing." Staheli West has recently established a dealership network covering more than two-thirds of the West that helps relieve some of the pressure.
Opportunities: "We are finding the arid and semi-arid regions are our primary markets," says Staheli. However, other states are proving fertile, including Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Oklahoma. These more humid markets typically use the DewPoint 6110 to steam hay with leaves for a more nutritious end product. "That's one area where we'll see expansion," says Staheli. "It opens up areas in the United States and other countries."
Needs: "Engineering talent," says Staheli. "We've hired on some help for us." Other than that, he adds, "We don't have any other big needs glaring at us in the face right now."