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Leveling System Story

A Study in Sidehill Harvesting Economics

We invite you to take a few minutes to visit, or perhaps revisit, a subject in which we know you are an expert. The subject is harvesting in the hills and the challenge: Should you invest in a sidehill leveling system for your next combine?

In the following we will provide you with valuable information backed by extensive studies, research, customer feedback, and personal experience. You will find an in-depth look at the three main components of sidehill harvesting—Grain Loss, Productivity and Cost of Ownership. You farm in some of the most challenging farming terrain in the world and you deserve a product that provides superior performance worthy of this challenge.

We deliver it.

Our story is unique, as unique as the people who live and farm in the hills...

The economics of sidehill harvesting have often been misunderstood and for good reason. Other than the farmer, few have a vested interest in studying the efficiency and productivity of combines harvesting in the hills. At Hillco Technologies, sidehill harvesting is our business, just as we know it's yours.

A thorough discussion must begin with an overview of the variables that contribute to the economics of sidehill harvesting:

Grain Savings—There is no more important economic factor than the combine's ability to save grain. We will discuss the combine's grain saving performance in the hills and the impact it has on profitability.

Harvesting Productivity—Many of the costs of harvesting are associated with the amount of time it takes to harvest your acres. We will discuss these variables and how they are affected by the combine's sidehill productivity.

Cost of Ownership—Finally, there is no argument that the purchase price of a sidehill combine is higher than a level-land combine. We will evaluate the annual cost of ownership for a sidehill combine. In simple terms the economics of sidehill harvesting can be summed up in an equation we call the
"Leveling Advantage":

Leveling Advantage

Grain Savings—More Bushels per Acre

Everyone agrees that level-land combines lose some amount of grain in the hills. Twenty years ago sidehill grain loss was obvious; lying in a trail on the hillside behind the combine. Today however, with the advent of the modern chaff spreader and residue management systems that pulverize and spread the grain across the entire header width, grain loss is now extremely difficult to "see" and thus incredibly easy to underestimate. Hillco understands that making an accurate assessment of sidehill harvesting demands that these losses be measured and quantified.

Machine Harvested Yield: Quantifying Grain Loss

Understanding the importance of quantifying grain loss, Hillco commissioned a study of sidehill combine performance. Rather than measuring losses on the ground, the study used a much more accurate gauge of combine grain saving performance: how much grain reached the combine's grain tank. The technical term for this measurement is "Machine Harvested Yield" or "MHY".

Extensive field-testing was done in both corn and soybeans across many slope and speed combinations and MHY was accurately weighed and recorded. The data was plotted to form a MHY curve that reflects the combine's grain savings performance over various slopes. The graph on the following page illustrates the results of the testing.

Bushels per acre lost for soybeans and corn with a non-leveling combine on varying slopes
(harvesting at full level-land harvesting speed)
Lost Revenue Chart

Illustration A In the graph, MHY loss curves are shown for a Class 7 combine harvesting on slopes from 0 to 18% at full level-land harvesting speed. The two curves, green for soybeans and orange for corn, represent the change in the combine's MHY while harvesting on these slopes. These slopes curve downward reflecting an increase in grain loss due to tilting of the combine's cleaning system; the greater the slope the greater the grain loss. (For a better understanding of the cause of sidehill grain loss see Illustration A.) The top blue line represents a sidehill combine's MHY curve. The sidehill curve is flat since its grain saving performance remains unchanged on slopes to 18%.

As you can see, the reduction in MHY at full level-land speed is significant and unacceptable to most farmers and they react to this grain loss by reducing their harvesting speed. The test data suggests a direct correlation between sidehill grain loss and ground speed; simply stated, cutting harvesting speeds by half reduced sidehill grain loss by half. To use the graph to calculate actual sidehill losses at speeds less than full level-land speed, reduce the grain loss value in proportion to the reduction in ground speed.

So, all this technical jargon is great but what does it mean to you, a farmer who harvests in the hills?

First, it means that we now have the information to quantify the actual amounts of grain lost when harvesting hills using a level-land combine!

Return on Investment Calculator—A Tool for Sidehill Harvesters

Return on Investment Calculator Here's how we do it. We developed formulas and built a spreadsheet to account for the amount of grain lost at the varying slope ranges, combine speeds, estimated price per bushel and harvesting equipment used. We were also able to calculate the impact of these factors on productivity as well as the cost of ownership, and we will discuss these topics in the following sections.

Using these formulas, we created our "Return on Investment Calculator" which is available to you here. The calculator allows you to input the specific details of your farming operation and then "crunches" the numbers for you to provide an easy-toread document outlining your potential grain savings in a hard dollar amount. You can perform the same calculations with a calculator or spreadsheet, but we've built our ROI calculator for your convenience.

Sam Hill Meet Sam Hill!

To help illustrate our story and demonstrate how the ROI CALCULATOR is used, as well as to better understand the impact of grain loss on profitability, we would like to introduce you to Sam Hill, owner/operator of Rolling Hills Farms. Sam currently owns a level-land combine and is ready to make a new combine purchase. Sam is familiar with sidehill combines but has never used one because he always believed he couldn't justify the added expense. He has decided to reevaluate his position on harvesting with a level-land combine prior to his next purchase.

Sam's Harvesting Equipment:
Combine: Class 7
Headers: 8 Row 30" Cornhead, 30' Flex Platform
Sam's Farmland:
Annual Corn Acres: 1000 acres—averaging 185 bushels/acre
Annual Soybean Acres: 1000 acres—averaging 45 bushels/acre
Slope Range Percentages:400 acres between 0–3% slope
700 acres between 4–9% slope
600 acres between 10–15% slope
300 acres at 16% or greater slope

Slope: percentage vs. Degrees

Like most farmers today, Sam understands that level-land combines lose grain in the hills, he just isn't aware of how much. Harvest after harvest Sam watches his grain loss monitor increase as he moves onto his steeper ground. If you are a level-land owner you've been there. You've experienced that "moment of compromise" when you balance the need to save grain with the need to keep your harvest moving. No matter how much you slow the combine down the monitor still shows you're losing grain; so you pick a speed and accept the compromise.

Grain Loss Monitor Sam is a good farmer and takes great pride in every aspect of his farming operation from planting to harvesting, with a keen eye on maximizing yield while minimizing inputs. Sam has never liked the compromise of grain loss in the hills but he's accepted it because he believed he was saving money.

Sam takes a close look at the facts of sidehill harvesting. A combine is a bushel per hour machine. If all of the harvesting conditions—except yield—are equal then the lower the yield the faster the harvesting speed, or vice versa. The amount of grain harvested per hour in both high and low yield conditions remains relatively equal. Using the ROI calculator, Sam inputs his harvesting speed on level ground at his average yield. The calculator then immediately determines the level-land bushels per hour capacity of Sam's combine at his average yield. For each slope range Sam enters his harvesting speed; the steeper the slope the more Sam must slow his level-land combine. Since Hillco's testing determined that grain loss varies proportionally to harvesting speed, the calculator reduces Sam's hillside grain loss in direct proportion to his reduction in ground speed.

Sam entered his harvesting information and was stunned when he saw the results! The calculator showed that he's been losing over $40,000.00 of grain every season! Sam couldn't believe it. He cut the sidehill loss estimates in half and ran the calculations again. As Hillco has validated with thorough and extensive testing, even at half the original loss estimates Sam used, he is still leaving a completely unacceptable amount of grain lying in the field!

Using the Leveling Advantage equation, Sam entered the grain savings results:
Grain Savings ($40,551) + Productivity Savings - Cost of Ownership = Leveling Advantage

Increase your Productivity—More Acres per Hour

So why do farmers buy larger, more productive combines? It's a matter of time—more acres and more bushels in fewer hours. At harvest time, time is money. So why buy a new combine and then sacrifice up to half its capacity in the hills? The technology incorporated into Hillco Leveling Systems eliminates the need to reduce sidehill harvesting speeds and is a perfect complement to today's powerful combines.

Sam took a closer look at the ROI results and now focused on the issue of combine productivity. He already knew that slowing down in the hills cost him hours in the harvest field but, once again, he didn't know exactly how much. Based on the harvesting speeds that Sam entered into the ROI calculator it estimated his levelland combine's total harvest separator hours at 282 hours. Based on his previous year's experience that seemed like a good estimate; however, had Sam been using a sidehill combine, he would have harvested the same number of acres in just over 196 hours. That represented a 86 hour reduction in combine separator hours! He realized immediately he was spending over seven extra days in the harvest field at the most critical time of the year!

At harvest, too much time is never a problem. Fall rains and snow are just around the corner and getting the grain into the bin is the only solution to beating the weather. With the realization that he is losing not only valuable grain but also valuable time, Sam begins to consider the many different associated costs.

Decreased separator hours means lower operating costs and Sam goes back to the ROI calculator to find out what that dollar value would be for his harvest.

Lower Operating Costs: Many harvesting expenses are related to the time it takes to harvest. Sam looked at two main areas affected: labor hours and fuel consumption.

Labor: Shortening your harvest time means fewer man hours required for combine drivers and other harvest personnel. For Sam's farming operation, by adding a Hillco Leveling System and estimating his seasonal hired labor costs at $15.00 per hour, his annual labor savings were $1,289.06.

Fuel: Shortening harvest time also means the harvesting equipment is running fewer hours. Sam used the price of $2.50 per gallon for diesel on his combine that used 14 gallons per hour and found his annual harvest fuel savings were $3,458.98.

Sam focused his research on his combine costs but he knows that there are also additional labor and fuel savings for the rest of his harvesting support equipment that haven't been included in his calculations. Saving over 25% of Sam's harvesting time provides other benefits as well:

More Time for More Acres. As farmers work on expanding their acreage, one of the most difficult barriers to upsizing is the ability to harvest it. The hours saved with the sidehill's increased capacity in the hills means there is more time for more acres without having to purchase another combine.

Get it in the Bin. The longer the crop stands in the field the greater the exposure to weather and the risk of dry down. Sam knows that when the crop reaches optimum harvesting condition the quicker he can get it in the bin the better. It doesn't happen every season but Sam understands that some years getting the harvest out a week early can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to his bottom line.

Fewer Combine Hours: Faster harvesting speeds mean fewer hours on your combine and that means greater value at trade-in time. With the depreciation on new combines running well over $150 an hour, the advantage of putting fewer hours on your combine is obvious! We will discuss the economic impact of this in the Cost of Ownership section.

Sam adds up the savings in operating costs and enters the second value in his Leveling Advantage Equation:
Grain Savings ($40,551) + Productivity Savings ($4,748) – Cost of Ownership = Leveling Advantage

Annual Cost of Ownership

A close study of the sidehill used equipment market using dealer input, pre-owned equipment data base companies and classified listings revealed that whether a Hillco Leveling System is 5 or 15 years old it still retains an average of 60% of its original value. Based on Sam's findings he uses a simple, straight-line formula and calculates the leveling system's annual cost of ownership.

$47,000.00List Price
x.40Percentage of depreciation for 5 years
$18,800.00Depreciation for first five years
÷5Number of years used in calculation
$3,760.00Annual Depreciation

However, that's only part of the story. Sam knows that because of the separator hours he was able to reduce due to the increase in his productivity, at trade-in time he will see a significant increase in his combine's value as well. Using the annual separator hour savings from the calculator and a conservative value of $150 per separator hour, Sam calculates the impact that reducing the total separator hours has on his combine's trade-in:

86 Reduced Separator Hours @ $150.00 an hour = $12,900.00

If Sam subtracts the amount of annual depreciation from the gains recognized by decreasing the amount of separator hours, he sees that he actually increased his combine market value by adding a leveling system to his purchase.

$12,900.00Reduced combine depreciation
-$3,760.00Leveling system depreciation
$9,140.00Positive Combine Value

Sam is quick to understand that preserving the market value of the combine by decreasing the accumulated separator hours more than off-sets the annual "Cost of Ownership" of adding a leveling system to his combine purchase.

Sam adds his latest value to complete his Leveling Advantage equation:
Grain Savings ($40,551) + Productivity Savings ($4,748) + Cost of Ownership ($3,760) = Leveling Advantage

The Leveling Advantage

Sam's final tally:
Grain Savings$40,551.00
Productivity Savings$  4,748.00
Cost of Ownership+ $  3,760.00
The Leveling Advantage$49,059.00

Leveling Advantage

While Sam is a fictitious character, his results are not. You don't have to "imagine" what a Hillco Leveling System can do for you—we invite you to enter your specific farming operation information into our ROI calculator and see the very real benefits you will experience by equipping your combine with a Leveling System from Hillco.

Still skeptical? At Hillco, we are farmers and businessmen just like you and we are located in the heart of some of the steepest terrain in the world. The old adage "necessity is the mother of invention" has always been true and our leveling systems were initially developed to maximize the farming operations in the hills where we live and work. We had to prove it to ourselves long before we set out to prove it to you. We don't just think our leveling systems do what we say they will—we know they do and, since our first leveling systems began being widely available, our customers know and have been saying it too. Year after year, survey after survey, one customer after another has the same story: they will never again harvest their hills without a Hillco Leveling System. From maximizing their profits to cab comfort for the long days, harvesting in the hills with Hillco isn't just a "nice option if you can afford it"...it's the only option you can't afford not to have!

Don't waste another season with a level-land combine. Join the growing ranks of satisfied Hillco owners today. Contact your nearest Hillco dealer or feel free to contact our Sales and Marketing Department at 800.937.2461 for further information.

Additional benefits of a hillco leveling system

There are several other key benefits that make owning a Hillco Leveling System the right choice for you:

Operator Comfort: Our customers don't make the leveling system decision based on operator comfort, but they tell us it becomes one of the main reasons they will never operate a level-land combine in the hills again.

Keeps Grain Tank Level: With the combine now level on your hillsides you will be able to fill your grain tank to capacity.


Near Factory Installation: Hillco offers near factory installation service for all new combines. Order a new combine and a Hillco Leveling System and the combine will arrive at your door field-ready.

Dealer Installation: The unique bolt-on design of Hillco Leveling Systems makes dealer installation a convenient option for both new and pre-owned combines.

Warranty: Hillco has warranty agreements with all major North American combine manufacturers ensuring that the installation of Hillco Leveling Systems does not affect the existing combine warranties. This also guarantees that Hillco has the latest design information about the combines we manufacture leveling systems for so that Hillco Leveling Systems are seamlessly integrated into the combine to create a true sidehill combine.

Product and Customer Support: Our products are only as good as our people...good thing our people are the best! Hillco stands behind its products and is committed to providing the best service and support available.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this brochure regarding crop loss as a function of slope and speed was obtained as a result of extensive testing conducted at the request of Hillco Technologies, Inc. and every effort was made during testing to create "average" harvesting conditions and yields. However, since there are countless number of variables that impact sidehill harvesting performances, your performance may vary from our test results. Hillco Technologies, Inc. expressly disclaims any warranty that if you purchase a Hillco Leveling System, you will achieve the sidehill leveling performance indicated by our test results.

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