Some southern Idaho custom choppers are done for the year after the first alfalfa cutting. But John Gomez keeps busy from late April through October. And his trucks run year-round, making daily haylage deliveries to dairy customers.
Instead of adding a lot of clients, Gomez, of Twin Falls, has expanded his business by doing more work for the 20 or so dairies that he already serves. He has tripled his business with most of the clients he started harvesting for in 1995, his first year of chopping.
When Gomez and his wife, Camelia, started J&C Custom, LLC, he chopped corn silage and haylage and packed it in bunker silos. He had one chopper and one truck then. Today he has six choppers and 35-40 trucks, and silage bagging is a big part of the business.
Gomez often locates standing alfalfa for clients to buy. Then he chops the crop, bags it next to the field and delivers it daily to the dairy, sometimes 10-15 miles away. In some cases, his trucks backhaul compost or manure to the field.
Gomez operates in one of the country's fastest-growing dairy areas. Initially, he grew his business by convincing dairymen that feeding haylage vs. all baled hay would make more milk. More recently, he has persuaded those same clients to feed more haylage and to store some of it in bags.
“There's nothing like bagged feed,” says Gomez. “First of all, there's no shrink. We weigh it when we put it in and when we take it out, and our tonnages are coming out exact.”
His crews filled 80 bags in 1999, his first year of bagging. They filled 250 bags last year, and he expects the number to approach 300 this year.
To get his business off the ground, Gomez guaranteed a 1-lb/cow/day milk production increase to dairymen willing to try haylage. Today he has a standing offer to buy haylage or corn silage from any dissatisfied customer.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” says Gomez. “But if you deny you messed up and don't take care of your customers, that will haunt you forever.”
He's never had to pay on a guarantee, in part because he's a stickler for timely harvesting. He drives from field to field on a daily basis, monitoring crop progress and making sure fields are ready when choppers arrive.
“I do all my own scheduling,” Gomez says. “I usually know about five days ahead when we're going to be somewhere so I can get in contact with the farmer.”
To widen his corn silage harvesting window, he works with clients to stagger hybrid maturities. For early planted corn, he recommends shorter-season hybrids, such as Pioneer's 97-day 38F70, instead of the typical 108-day numbers. That lets Gomez start chopping in late August, roughly 10 days earlier than normal.
“This moves our usual five- to six-week harvest schedule up, which helps us harvest in a more timely manner,” he says.