President and CEO Dave Staheli has disrupted the staid haybaling industry by manufacturing cutting-edge equipment that harnesses the power of steam.
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.
Staheli figured he could simulate dew with steam in order to bale hay around the clock in most any climate. In arid regions, conventional baling is often impossible beyond a couple hours a night.
So he went home and used a pressure cooker to bale some dry alfalfa hay. “It worked so well,” Staheli 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.
It worked: Staheli West now makes a number of machines that can typically run all day and night, regardless of the weather.
The company released the DewPoint 6210 in 2015, supplanting the legacy 6110. In 2021, it added the DewPoint 331 to the catalog based on customer demand. The $160,000 331 sports a lower price tag than the $225,000 6210. “It’s a small machine that serves the small square bale market and the round bale market,” says Staheli. “It’s just a smaller version of the same machine, basically.”
For 2022, the DewPoint 331 represents “about half of our sales,” says Staheli. “It really has been in high demand. We let the cat out of the bag on that two or three years earlier, when we actually thought we were going to have it ready to go, but we developed some new technology for that, and it took a little bit longer.”
“We basically eliminated all of the high electrical voltage and we eliminated the generator and then a diesel engine. So we’re pulling all of our power from the tractor hydraulics and the tractor power system.”
“We changed over from the industrial controls we are using currently on our big machine,” says Staheli. “We switched this new one over to ruggedized mobile electronics. . . . We switched over to that technology, and it’s working extremely well.”
Staheli West outsources boilers, metal fabrication, and plastic production, and acquired a key vendor, Western Powder Coating, in 2020. The final machine builds take place at Staheli West’s 35,000-square-foot headquarters in Cedar City. “We do the assembly work here, and of course the design, the marketing, the parts service, tech support, and sales,” says Staheli.
The company brought burner manufacturing for the DewPoint 331 in-house, sourcing housing, electrical components, and other parts from several vendors. “We actually designed our own burner,” says Staheli. “We really customized it to the application, and it’s worked out really, really well. We still buy burners for our big machine right now, but for our small one, we’ve gotten into that world now because it’s so unique that nobody else could really build it for us anyway. . . . So far, it’s looking really, really good. It’s turned out very well.”
Competing machinery “doesn’t work the same. Steam is just so unique in its properties where it’s expanded so far from water. It’s about 1,700 times a gallon — a gallon of water is 1,700 gallons of steam. You can thoroughly cover all of the crop material, but it condenses immediately into the material. The absorption rate doesn’t take time; it’s an immediate, instant thing that happens.”
That’s key for many of Staheli West’s customers, especially exporters: “A lot of the hay produced in the United States is exported out of the country to either China or the Pacific Rim or the Middle East — places that are not currently growing enough of their own supply.”
Buyers in overseas markets “want the hay to look really good, they want the leaves all on in their bales, but they can’t have them be high-moisture. Anything above 11 or 12 percent moisture in a bale that’s put in a shipping container causes a lot of trouble in the container, because it can’t breathe. It causes spoilage on the trip.”
Steam “simulates a high-moisture baling environment, but it’s actually way lower moisture than using natural dew,” says Staheli. “But you get a superior effect: It actually bales like it’s at 18 or 20 percent moisture, but the actual moisture at baling time is 12, 13, 14 percent, and that quickly dissipates down to 8 or 9 percent generally. You have this really great package that looks awesome, but it’s actually low-moisture that can go straight into and get shipped in these containers without a problem.”
After a quarter-century in business, Staheli West has gained solid market traction, and recent years have been banner ones for the business. “We’ve had a surge in demand for both the large steamer and the smaller one this year like we have never seen before,” says Staheli. “We’ve had about a 50 percent increase in our business this year over our highest years, which were the prior two years.”
“Our technology is becoming more and more of a standard in the haymaking industry than ever before,” he notes. “It’s recognized worldwide.”
Challenges: Supply chain. “With all of the supply chain issues, it’s so hard to ramp production up in a short amount of time, so we’ve just had to do what we can do,” says Staheli. “It’s kind of like sticking your neck out. You’re waiting for it to get chopped off or you might do really well. With inventory costs and all those kinds of things, you do have to be a little wise in the world we’re living in right now.”
“Things that were a few weeks lead time are now six or eight months, things that were three months are a year out now, and things that were six months are two years out now. So we are just really having to look way ahead on our purchasing — which we’re doing. We’re actually getting along very well compared to some of the other manufacturers. We’ve been able to deliver machines in a pretty timely way, a little bit of delay but not too bad.”
Opportunities: Growth, driven by exports of both DewPoint models. “We don’t have a huge worldwide presence, but we do have a worldwide effect,” says Staheli. “We’re in seven or eight different countries now, and some of them in a smaller way. Australia is our next largest market to the United States, with about 15 to 20 percent of our sales going there.”
Staheli West is looking to the future in the form of a potential new campus on 75 acres near Cedar City “over the next eight to 10 years,” says Staheli, with as many as six buildings totaling close to 400,000 square feet. “We may bring in some of our other suppliers over there as well who have expressed interest.”
Needs: “Just wisdom,” laughs Staheli. “In this world we’re in right now, wisdom and inspiration are the two things we need worst.”