Ukrainians travel to Kansas during COVID-19 pandemic to see ag machinery

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Agriculture producers from Ukraine watch as a fertilizer toolbar folds up at ShieldAg in South Hutchinson Tuesday afternoon.

Like grains and beef from Kansas, agricultural machinery in the Sunflower State is competing on the global stage. 

Three Kansas agricultural manufacturing companies sparked the interest of major producers in Ukraine. These producers wanted to travel to the Heartland to examine  state-of-the-art machinery.

Because traveling during COVID-19 is not easy, the Kansas-based companies worked hard to make this international trip happen.

"COVID has changed the rules of business," said Daniel Rauchholz, the president of Farmada, an Assaria-based manufacturing company that designed one of the machines the Ukrainian producers came to Kansas to see. "This visit would not be made possible if we had not pushed to find a way to make it a reality."

Through diplomacy and efforts from the U.S. government, along with the help of U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, these farmers were able to visit Kansas and examine Kansas-based ingenuity. 

"They're coming to us in Kansas to listen to us. It's an honor," Rauchholz said. "We're small companies, and these guys work with all the major manufacturers."

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Kansas businessmen talk with producers from Ukraine about a specialized fertilizer toolbar Tuesday afternoon at SheildAg in South Hutchinson.

Farmada product interests Ukrainian producers 

Previously, Rauchholz traveled worldwide selling products for a top agricultural equipment company. During one of his trips to Ukraine, he came up with the idea of a toolbar. Three years ago, he implemented it.

Rauchholz’ company, Farmada, developed a fertilizer toolbar that can apply anhydrous ammonia, liquid and dry fertilizers and nitrogen stabilizers into the ground. With the help of other manufacturers, including South Hutchinson-based ShieldAg Manufacturing and Atwood-based SureFire, the company is able to produce this toolbar.

The Farmada toolbar, which is tractor driven, has hitch extensions and can handle diverse ground conditions. The company’s model Elxir64 is available with 15, 16 or 17 rows at 30-inch row spacing or from 35-40 feet working width. 

In addition, the machines are flexible. If there is rough terrain, it will continually place the fertilizer into the soil at the correct depth. By having long wing flexes, the machines are able to travel over hilly or rutted ground and move up and down with the terrain. The ability to work under harsh conditions is what interested the Ukrainian producers.

Ukrainian producers listen as local Farmada President Daniel Rauchholz talks about the fertilizer toolbar with SureFire Ag Systems' International Sales Manager Nicholas Bowles, right.

Kansas companies working together

By working with Kansas-based companies, Farmada kept transportation costs down and affinity up. The ground engaging components are sourced from ShieldAg Equipment. 

SureFire, an agriculture manufacturing company in Atwood, supplies Farmada with the pumps, coolers, hoses, and ties for its new equipment.

"I work with Farmada to provide the application control side," said Nicholas Bowles, International Sales Manager for SureFire Ag. 

SureFire, which is situated in a town of slightly more than 1,000 people in far Western Kansas, learned of Farmada from Mike Bergmeier, the president of ShieldAg. Bergmeier enjoys keeping Kansas ingenuity alive - and thriving. 

According to Bergmeier, Kansas is one of the top five agricultural manufacturing states in the nation.

Bowles met Bergmeier six years ago. Since then, Bergmeier has introduced Bowles to Rauchholz and has helped other Kansas-based agricultural manufacturers intermingle their talents.

Nicholas Bowles, International Sales Manager for SureFire Ag Systems, left, and Daniel Rauchholz, President of Farmada, answer questions from Ukrainian agriculturalists through interpreter Sergii Kovalchuk Tuesday afternoon at ShieldAg, 950 Scott Blvd. in South Hutchinson.

Ukrainian dealers come to Kansas to find quality equipment

The pandemic has changed the way U.S. businesses can operate. Because of COVID-19 rules, people are discouraged from travel.

"ShieldAg has participated in conventional trade missions to export-target countries many times in the last 20 years," Bergmeier said. "The reverse trade mission is a way to get qualified customers safely to the USA (they have to be tested), and we can keep them in a small group to keep everyone safe, while continuing to work hard to convince them to buy USA- and Kansas-made products."

Sergii Kovalchuk, a Ukrainian dealer, said he and five other Ukrainians came to Kansas to examine this machine in person. The producers farm more than one million acres in the Ukraine - this would be equal to about the acreage in two counties in Kansas. 

"This visit is very important," Kovalchuk said. "We wanted to see the equipment with our own eyes."

Kovalchuk and Alexi Khuorostiyphil, another Ukrainian dealer, and the producers they brought with them, are looking to find quality equipment that can work on the Ukrainian terrain.

"It's a very strong machine," Khuorostiyphil said. "We are looking for a partnership with a company that has very high-quality equipment."

Ukrainian farmers eye equipment for large-scale needs

The four Ukrainian farmers who visited ShieldAg said through an interpreter that they were excited to visit Kansas and examine the equipment. 

One of the producers farms more than 1 million acres and is interested in working with a smaller manufacturer who understands their needs. Along with running a cattle operation, this producer plants alfalfa, corn, soy, sunflowers and wheat. It is one of the largest sunflower operations in the world.

Two brothers, Victor and Yurii Kotduban, run a large-scale dairy farm housing more than 3,000 cows. Along with producing milk, cottage cheese and butter, they plant corn, sunflowers and wheat.

Both these producers want to visualize the equipment they plan to purchase. 

"For us, this is a very good partnership because it is a new company," Khuorostiyphil said.

These producers hope to buy two toolbars this year and probably four next year. They want to improve productivity and reduce the cost of operation. 

"If your machine can work in really tough areas, it can work anywhere," Rauchholz said.

In addition to ShieldAg, the delegation will tour the production facilities of Grain Belt Supply in Salina and Applequist Manufacturing in Smith Center. Much of the visit will be spent discussing the latest agronomy.

Rauchholz said, "Having these leading farms with over one million acres exclusively come see Farmada and our partner company Shield and SureFire is a testament to how small business can effectively cooperate to provide customers all the solutions they are looking for."