Chrysler was able to do it in the 1980s. Harley Davidson did it in the 1990s. Now Harvestore is hoping to add its name to the list of high-profile companies that have staged big-time comebacks after falling on hard times.

“We're not fooling ourselves,” says John Garnett, director of marketing and business development for CST Industries, Inc., which bought Harvestore from A.O. Smith in 2001. “We know it won't be easy to get dairy producers to believe in Harvestore again.”

Overcoming the notion that Harvestores aren't compatible with the parlor-freestall setups that became dominant during the 1980s is a major component of the company's new marketing campaign. The company has new unloaders that it claims make its system highly competitive with bunker and bag storage systems.

Garnett points out that the Alliance unloader can unload 200-300 lbs of 55%-moisture haylage or corn silage per minute. The XL high-speed unloader, expected to be introduced this year, promises to deliver feed at even faster rates.

As another part of the marketing campaign, CST Industries hopes to capitalize on Harvestore's long-standing reputation for preserving feed value with little or no mold.

“That hasn't changed over the years,” says Garnett.

Toward that end, the company is funding a two-year study at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, WI. The researchers are comparing Harvestores, silage bags and concrete bunkers for dry matter losses and feed quality and subsequent effects on intake and milk production.

Preliminary results from one phase of the study, released last fall, show that cows fed alfalfa stored in a Harvestore system for more than 270 days produced the most milk fat and 3.5% fat-corrected milk. Dry matter losses from the various storage systems will be released later this year.

The company is also promoting improvements in parts quality, silo floors and the glassing process, as well as rebuild kits for existing Harvestores.

“The basic message we want to get across is that there are still plenty of reasons to own or use a Harvestore,” says Garnett.

Paul Caine doesn't need convincing. With brothers Pat and Dan, he manages a 210-cow dairy herd near Wausaukee, WI. The Caines have four Harvestores for storing haylage, corn silage and high-moisture corn. They also have a concrete stave silo and, since 1995, have used silage bags for supplemental storage.

“In our type of operation, Harvestores are definitely the way to go,” Paul says. “It's mostly a matter of convenience with unloading. You open a door, push a button and the feed comes out.”

Caine says the upright units are also easier to manage than bags.

“You can run into a lot of problems with bags when it's raining, or in spring when the frost is coming out of the ground,” he says. “It can get pretty messy around the bags. The skid-steer gets stuck in the mud and you end up with deep ruts all over the place.”

Compared to other storage systems, Caine contends, Harvestores also reduce storage losses.

”With a bunker, you get a lot of waste,” he says. “With a Harvestore, you might get a moldy crust near the top of the silo near the breather valve. But it usually isn't that much of a problem. Last year, we stored haylage in our 20 × 80' unit. We completely emptied the structure before refilling and only had to throw out about 300 lbs of moldy feed. That's next to nothing.”

The real advantage of Harvestore storage shows up when feed is delivered to the cows, says Caine.

“With a bunker, it seems like you always end up with some mold going into the mixer. The cows end up eating it because it's in the mix and they don't have a choice. That can't be good for production and herd health.”

He acknowledges that maintenance costs can be significant.

“But you do get a payback with labor savings,” he says. “And there are costs with bunkers and bags, too. Skid-steers wear out and you have to get rid of the plastic you use for covering. Farmers don't always take those kinds of costs into account.”

Mark Brave, Brave Harvestore, Menomonie, WI, uses StoragePro software to help potential customers calculate costs of different kinds of storage. Brave starts sessions with individual producers by figuring out how much storage is needed. Then he uses the software to compare capital costs of various systems.

Next, using numbers provided by producers, Brave plugs in operating costs for each kind of structure — electricity for running an unloader, diesel fuel for filling and packing in a bunker, bag costs, labor costs, etc.

Brave and producers also input numbers for estimated storage losses. Then the program calculates a per-ton cost for storing feed with each type of structure.

Brave says producers are often surprised by the results.

“They come into it thinking there's no way Harvestore is going to be the least expensive,” he says. “But the numbers typically show that they're very competitive. A lot of that has to do with the cost of storage losses. At first, producers find it hard to believe those losses are actually costing that much.”

The University of Wisconsin also makes a spreadsheet available for producers looking to do a thorough economic analysis of costs associated with various storage systems (Go to age, click on “UW Forage Resources” and “Decision Software.”).

Along with calculating capital costs for each kind of system, the spreadsheet helps producers estimate various annualized costs for depreciation, interest, repairs, taxes and insurance on the structure and equipment. It also helps calculate costs of dry matter loss, labor, fuel, plastic, etc.

“Each kind of system has benefits and drawbacks,” says University of Wisconsin ag engineer Brian Holmes. “For example, the lowest-capital-cost system isn't necessarily the system with lowest annualized costs.”

Other factors to take into account as part of the decision-making process, according to Holmes:

  • Expansion plans. “Start by taking a long-term look at where your business is headed,” he advises. “Do you want to grow a little at a time, or do you want to launch a major expansion? Answering those kind of questions will give you a framework for working through the numbers.”

  • Management. Top-notch management is the surest bet for holding storage losses — a major component of annualized costs — to a minimum, says Holmes.

    “If you combine some of these low-capital-cost systems with poor management, the annualized costs can end up dwarfing annualized capital costs,” he notes.

  • Space availability. Not all farmstead layouts have enough room for bunker or bag storage. “If you're cramped for space, a tower silo could be the best option,” says Holmes.

  • Environment. Holmes points out that putting up silage too wet can lead to significant seepage in any kind of storage. In bunkers and silage piles, rainfall can wash silage juices and feed particles into areas where they can impact surface and ground waters.

With tower silos, you might actually get more seepage. So care should be taken to prevent seepage from entering surface and ground water. The roof on a tower silo, though, keeps rain from washing feed and silage juices out of the silo.

“The water-quality impact of different kinds of storage is a subject that hasn't been talked about much,” Holmes says. “But it should be.”