It's harvest season, but where does a combine go when it dies? Check out the combine graveyard
All States Ag Parts in Salem, South Dakota, helps ease supply shortages, serves customers around the globe.
SALEM, S.D. — The equipment seems to stretch for 1,000 yards in every direction.
Rising out of the prairie like a small mountain range, the parts lot at All States Ag Parts in Salem, South Dakota, is a maze of farm machinery of every conceivable make, model, vintage and state of repair. Chaotic at first glance, the landscape features tractors, combines, balers and other equipment organized by type as employees move about, removing vital parts for resale to producers around the world.
And with a global supply shortage spurred by the COVID-19 outbreak that has hindered farmers’ efforts to repair their machinery, that makes this apocalyptic-looking location an oasis for those trying to get their crops in and out of the field.
“That’s our primary business,” said John Starner, manager of the Salem location.
The company, which has 15 locations in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, California, Washington, Texas and a handful of outlets in Canada, specializes in purchasing damaged or unwanted farm equipment and salvaging the valuable parts that are so in demand at the moment. The company has 11 salvage yards, two rebuild facilities, a corporate office and a centralized distribution center.
They are the largest supplier of used, new and remanufactured tractor and combine parts in North America, according to the company website.
The Salem location sells parts to buyers across the United States and beyond. Recent orders have been placed from as near as Salem itself to as far away as Ukraine and everywhere in between.
The interest is high. Supply chain disruptions have put a squeeze on new and used parts inventory around the country . In some cases, new replacement parts must be ordered months in advance. That puts farmers at a disadvantage because they don’t know what they will need until it breaks.
But there’s a good chance a place like All States Ag Parts may have what they need. The company purchases damaged equipment, like combines that have suffered a fire or equipment that has aged out of its usefulness on the farm. They then strip them down and stock the parts in inventory.
“Insurance people reach out to our corporate buyer, and it’s put out for bids. We pick up the equipment, bring it in here and we process it. We pull the oils and burned batteries and the environmental stuff, take out all the good parts, rebuild and refurbish and then get that into our inventory,” Starner said.
What can’t be saved is sold for scrap, but there’s not much they can’t save if it hasn’t been severely damaged by fire or completely worn. And there aren’t many brands that can’t be found on their lot. Nearly everything from the latest John Deere and CaseIH equipment is mixed with long-defunct brands like Oliver, drawing in customers who use farm equipment on every level, as well as collectors.
Rod Reif, assistant manager at the All States Ag Parts in Salem, said while the business has been in town for over two decades, even some locals have never stopped there unless they find themselves in need of a part. Once they do, they’re usually stunned by the variety of the inventory.
“People pass by this place every day, and if they finally need a part, they come in and they’re just amazed by how much stuff we have crammed in here,” Reif said. “They’re like kids in a candy store.”
Rain had slowed activity on the lot earlier this week, but salvage work was still underway. An employee was dismantling portions of a burned combine, and nearby Reif pointed out a stack of combine heads that were on hand to disassemble if needed, and from which the company harvests items like gear boxes. Parts like tires and rims, if not destroyed by fire, are often the first to be saved and sold.
The burned combine is not an uncommon sight at the yard.
“This combine here comes from a local farmer. He was just going along and saw some smoke so he bailed out. The next thing you know, it’s on fire,” Reif said.
Not terribly long after that, it was here on site, being attended to by one of the location’s 26 staffers. They handle duties including disassembly, reassembly, organizing and customer service, among others.
That farmer was far from the only one in the region to experience a combine fire this season. With the drought and corresponding dust, conditions are ripe for equipment fires.
Fire engulfed the 2001 Case 2388 combine of Egeland, North Dakota, farmers Carie and Jason Moore on Sept. 19, quickly destroying the machine.
Jason Moore had reached the end of the wheat field he was harvesting at 4:45 pm. and was turning around to head the other way when the combine slowed down and the machine lost RPMS. He attempted to move the throttle, but it wouldn’t budge, so he got out of the combine and saw fire dripping from melting hoses.
A check of the engine department revealed a “fireball,” Moore said. The fire was too large to put out with the fire extinguisher he carries with him in the combine cab, so he called the Egeland (North Dakota) Volunteer Fire Department — where he is fire chief. A crew arrived within 10 minutes with two brush trucks and a tanker truck. Moore and his crew extinguished the fire, which had spread to the field stubble, in about an hour.
The combine was totaled, Moore said.
The Moores decided to make an insurance claim on the combine instead of taking it apart and salvaging parts themselves. The difference between the insurance money they will receive and the combine they purchased to replace the combine likely will be about $25,000 to $30,000, Moore estimated.
The combine fire is one more frustration in a year that already was tough because of drought that resulted in reduced yields and late-season rains that spurred weed growth in soybeans, which makes harvesting difficult.
“It’s been a year that I don’t want to ever go back to,” Moore said.
A database of parts
The staffers at All State Ag Parts Salem location handle duties including disassembly, reassembly, organizing and customer service, among others. They have one employee whose job it is to drive around the lot looking for parts, all of which are marked in white writing with a company part number.
“Pretty much every piece of equipment out here has a location number. It was quite a chore getting that started,” Reif said.
The company keeps a database of available parts online for customers to search, which has helped expand the company footprint beyond any one store’s location. That means buyers in places like Florida have access to whatever All States Ag Parts can find on their lots.
Inside the main building, a room sports shelves that tower to the ceiling with parts ready for sale. Further back can be found a bay that can hold a number of large pieces of equipment, a heavy crane and every kind of tool a mechanic could want. The clanks of engine and body work on combines rattle through the room.
The company even uses some of what they find for their own use by recycling the used oil from the equipment to heat their workspace.
Reif, who has worked for the company for 22 years, says supply shortages come and go, but this most recent one is as serious as he’s ever seen.
“This is definitely worse, with the whole COVID-19 thing. That really slowed a lot of stuff down. It didn’t hurt us right away because there’s plenty of product out there, and we still get stuff in. It just takes a little more time,” Reif said.
All States Ag Parts has about every part one could think of, but even they aren’t immune to supply chain issues. The Salem location needs a new furnace, and they have been waiting for months for it to be installed. Even Reif himself has found himself on the tough end of supply chain issues.
“Honestly, I ordered a La-Z-Boy recliner last Thanksgiving, and I didn’t get it until the end of February. Just for a recliner. It’s ridiculous,” Reif said.
Starner said it was unclear when the supply chain issues will resolve themselves, but his staff in Salem will keep mining parts from their yard to get them into the hands of those producers who need them. New or old, green or red or whatever color, there’s a chance they can help, he said.
“It’s going to be interesting going into the off-season to see if they can rebuild that supply chain. I’ve read a couple articles and it doesn’t sound very favorable, but nobody really knows right now,” Starner said. “(But) our phones are ringing constantly.”