Picture Perfect Harvest
Buck Boyer and his crew farm the Palouse, a beautifully scenic part of America with extreme slope to the land, Buck is convinced they couldn't do it without their FlexDrapers.
For us, there's nothing on the market today that's even close to the FlexDraper. We wouldn't be able to do what we do without them.”
In Idaho it's been described as "Heaven on earth for photographers." Washington State claims it as one of its "Seven Wonders." It's called the Palouse; a large region of flowing wheatfields and sculpted hills that straddles the border of southeastern Washington and north central Idaho. The farmland here is not just considered some of the most scenic in North America, but also some of its most fertile thanks to a base of glacial sediment that can be well over 200 feet (61 meters) deep in places.
Unfortunately, as productive as the Palouse is, it is by the same measure as challenging to farm because those sculpted hills are often steep and treacherous; so steep that the area really wasn't successfully farmed until a self-leveling mechanism for combines was invented in the 1940s to help them safely tackle slopes that would tip over a normal combine.
"We have steep hillside farming here," said Idahoan farmer Buck Boyer who runs a large 40,000 acre operation in the heart of the Palouse, headquartered near the town of Lapwai close to the Washington border, and south in Camas Prairie.
"The area is full of steep rolling hills which add a whole other dynamic to farming, not just getting up and down the hills with the combine, but also getting the crop out of the fields."
Altogether, Boyer farms about 24,000 acres of soft winter wheat plus another 16,000 acres of garbanzo beans and peas as rotation crops. Helping him with the operation is his grandfather Larry, dad Steve and brother Bryan, and other family that help make up a regular crew of 25 employees that expands to 35 at harvest time. The family's many fields are spread out over an area that runs both sides of the Washington / Idaho border and measures a whopping 125 miles (201 kms) from north to south.
For harvest the Boyers run eight 9250 Case IH combines with MacDon FD245 headers. All combines are fitted with Hillco leveling systems with 27% slope compensation.
"Our hills max out our Hillco levelers at 27% a lot of the time, but our slopes can go up to at least 45% I think, because we're pretty steep here."
Finding workers who can successfully operate a large combine on their slopes has become an ongoing challenge for the Boyers, made all the more difficult given the current farm labor shortage.
"You can't just shoot an AB line and GPS our land. This work takes a pretty skilled person who can operate the machine with the contours of the hills. And it's not like you're going to go downtown and find someone like that; someone who knows everything about a MacDon FD2 header and a 9250 Case combine, they just don't exist, you have to train them."
For that reason the Boyers are extra appreciative of the people they have working for them.
"These are million-dollar machines, and they have to produce so much every day to make it all happen. Thankfully, we are very, very fortunate for the team that we have. We have a very good crew nucleus, and we wouldn't be successful without these guys."
Another thing they are appreciative of is their new FD2 MacDon headers which they used for the entire 2022 harvest. Among the many improvements on the FD2 that they've noticed is how much more flex there is across the entire 45 feet of header.
"The increased travel in the FD2's frown and the smile is really noticeable. You get a lot more flex with it, and we can now go through a lot tighter draws and over a lot bigger humps and still cut close to the ground over the whole header."
"We've also noticed the three-piece reel stays closer and more uniform to the cutterbar, so you get better feeding, which is really noticeable in beans and peas where you have less volume entering the combine. I even think that we are getting a little more capacity in the heavy wheat, maybe because it feeds better because of the header's wider opening and draper."
Boyer says that the FD2's improvements aside, MacDon FlexDrapers themselves, just like their skilled crew, have become essential for the success of their operation. They've been using FlexDrapers since the late 2000s when they were looking to move up in header width to 40' as well as improve the efficiency of their overall harvesting.
"Back then everybody I talked to who had them said they were getting more out of their combines because of their even feeding. Then, after researching them, we liked how the header would smile and frown, which we thought would work a lot better in our terrain."
"At the time, we were running 35' auger headers, and when you would go through a draw, the header would bridge, causing the ends of the header to rub. That was hard on the header and on the cutterbar. But these MacDon headers are just a whole lot more forgiving. Their floatation just bounces up over the terrain, over humps, even the rocks."
The FlexDrapers - then FD75s - performed exactly as advertised, Boyer says that they quickly discovered an even bigger advantage with FlexDrapers in their operation.
"Probably the number one thing we like about MacDon headers is what it has done for our residue management. Because we can now cut our stubble right on the ground and process it all with the combine, it saves us from coming back to mow or burn it. And that's all because of the header, and it has completely changed what we do."
Not having to till, mow or burn stubble would be a big advantage for most farmers, but it is especially important in the Palouse, where no-till farming is necessary due to the region's extremely high soil erosion rate. How high? Before the adoption of no-till practices, the USDA estimated in one 1970s paper that Palouse cropland was losing about nine tons of topsoil per acre every year, a huge loss of the region's most valuable resource.
"These FlexDrapers have saved us a second pass and made our residue management a whole lot better. It's better for the machines and better for the crop."
Another challenge MacDon FlexDrapers have helped the Boyers is with moving their combines during harvest, not just from field to field, but from elevation to elevation.
"We farm from about 800 feet up to about 4,000 feet elevation. The difference between our low and high-elevation fields can be as much as 60 days in harvest time, so we are just chasing the season all the time; as such, we tend to do a lot of road travel, including having to move the 125 miles from our furthest north field to our furthest south field."
"That's why the FD2's transport package is such a huge deal for us because we don't have to retrieve any header carts from the last place we put the headers on. That can sometimes be several miles away, but the transport package is always with us; it is always ready. That's another favorite thing about these headers - they save us a lot of time."
"For us, there's nothing on the market today that's even close to the FlexDraper. We wouldn't be able to do what we do without them."
But the Boyers shouldn't be too surprised by how well-suited FlexDrapers are to their operation; after all, they've had a direct hand in the header's development.
"We did some testing for MacDon. They sent a prototype FD145 header here with a test engineer who was out there every day with us trying new things with the header. Other engineers also came out throughout the harvest to look at their parts of the header, and it was good to see them listen to our guys and hear their comments and concerns."
"Then, what was really nice was to see things on the next model that maybe our guys had some input into and helped make better. It was just refreshing to see how hands-on the MacDon engineers were and how quickly improvements could be made. They listened to what we had to say and things actually changed."
As beneficial as FlexDrapers have proven to be in the Palouse, there are still some farmers in the region who have been slow to try them and Boyer says that he still finds himself doing his part to convert them to MacDon.
"I recently advised a guy that I went to college with to buy a MacDon FD2 when he traded in for a new combine. He had been running an auger header before, but he is a direct seed guy and having trouble with residue management."
"He had been trying to do all sorts of things to control his residue like mow it, harrow it, put cows on it. But I kept telling him all you've got to do is get yourself a MacDon header. That will eliminate your problem."