Not just for construction

BUSINESSES PUT KOMATSU MACHINERY TO GOOD USE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY

Feb 24, 2012

From soil ripping to diary feeding, Komatsu does the job

Before dams were constructed in California’s San Fernando Valley, the area flooded consistently. That caused salt to build up in the soil, which is not conducive to growing the more than 200 crops the area is known for. One way that agricultural producers combat that is by introducing soil amendments (additives), such as calcium, that balance the pH.

“All those crops need calcium; it’s a vital part of their cell structure,” explained Rick Dreo, who along with his wife, Patricia, owns and operates Superior Soil Supplements, a supplier of soil amendments and landscape products. “Gypsum is one of the best sources of calcium, and that’s been our main product since we started Superior Soil about 14 years ago. At that time, the gypsum was practically all low-grade, but about 10 years ago we introduced high-grade gypsum into the market. We consider that in the 90- to 100-percent pure range.”

Because California lacks high-grade gypsum, Superior Soil imports it from neighboring states via rail car and truck. The company handles more than 200,000 tons per year, mainly at its wholesale facility and home base in Hanford. Superior Soil Supplements also carries lime, dolomite, sulfur, compost, manure and humic acids for agricultural customers. It offers bulk and bagged product, including the relatively recent addition of Organic Materials for Growers, which are natural products produced from fish solubles.

“We sell a fair amount of material as-is, but we also work with farmers and others to custom blend materials based on their soil tests,” said Dreo, who also mines and carries low-grade gypsum through West Hills Mining, which is located about 70 miles west of Hanford. “For instance, some land may not need gypsum, but instead calls for potash, magnesium or another product or blend of products. Whatever growers need, we can supply, and we can also coordinate the spreading through our network of independent contractors.”

On the company’s landscaping side, Superior Soil also ships in bulk materials which come by rail to its yard in Ivanhoe. There, Dreo’s son Jason is in charge of unloading railcars, stockpiling materials and loading trucks that transport them to the Hanford location. Other key personnel include Yardman Martin Perez, Office Manager Martha Lamb, Dispatcher Julie Maxwell and five company sales representatives.

Jason loads trucks with a Komatsu WA320-5 wheel loader, and at the Hanford yard, Superior Soil runs a WA320-6. Dreo began buying Komatsu loaders about four years ago, making the most recent purchase from Road Machinery LLC’s Bakersfield branch.

“We used another brand, but had some trouble with service, and that spurred us to look at Komatsu,” said Dreo. “At the time, we were growing and needed some more loaders, so we demo’d Komatsu, and ended up buying two. One aspect that really sold me was how user-friendly they are. When our WA320-5 was delivered, I had it figured out within about 10 minutes. The other part of the story that’s significant is that Road Machinery wanted to come out and go over the machine and train us the day after it was delivered. I simply couldn’t wait, but it showed me their commitment to the customer’s satisfaction and production.

“Our production has been great, thanks in large part to a couple things,” Dreo added. “The loaders are strong machines that hold up well in the V-cycle loading that we do, and the hydrostatic transmission is a great feature. We can adjust it to the operator’s preference for lift and forward speeds. What really stands out, though, is the way it slows without hitting the brakes, allowing us to inch up to a truck during loading.”

Dreo is also impressed with Road Machinery’s service. “We handle most maintenance, but now and again I call their technicians to come out. We had an O-ring go out on a machine, and Road Machinery sent a service tech on a Sunday afternoon to take care of it. They come out after hours too, if that’s what it takes.”

Diamond D General Engineering

Spencer Defty, who along with his wife, Laura, owns and operates Diamond D General Engineering, started using Komatsu equipment under similar circumstances. He too was having some issues with a competitive dealer, and a friend told him about Road Machinery and Komatsu equipment. Defty demo’d a PC220 excavator and noticed a significant difference in performance.

“We tried several different brands, and the Komatsu stood out head and shoulders above the others,” reported Defty, who started Diamond D in 1987 with a garden tractor, doing small jobs for residential customers. “We had a canal project for a reclamation district, and we put the PC220 head-to-head with another machine under the exact same conditions. At the end of the day, the Komatsu was farther down the ditch. We bought it, and have continued to add Komatsu through the years. We’ve owned probably 25 pieces of Komatsu equipment.”

In addition to Woodland-based Diamond D, which works north from the Sacramento area, Defty is also involved in Still & Company and Ramsey North. All three companies provide construction services, but Defty still maintains solid roots in the California agricultural field.

“We’re unique in that no job is too small for us, although most of our work is relatively large in nature. Much of our work is for irrigation districts that work to provide flood control measures and other services for farmers in northern California,” explained Defty. “We provide services such as storm damage cleanup, ditch cleaning, underground infrastructure installation and checking structures and weirs (small dams) used to divert water. We build ponds and do deep ripping and soil amendment applications, but those are small parts of the larger whole.”

In addition, Defty specializes in ranch road construction, even presenting a seminar last year on best practices in conjunction with a government entity. “There’s an art to road building. The builder has to understand hydrology and topography and how those things affect the road over time. You can’t just put the blade in the soil and carve out a road.”

During the seminar, Defty demonstrated his techniques using a Komatsu D51 dozer, which he also uses for ripping and soil amendment application. “The slant-nose design provides excellent visibility to the blade, which is a great advantage when dozing,” Defty pointed out. “It also has good power, which helps in the ripping projects we do. Overall, it’s a terrific machine, and that’s been our experience with our entire fleet of Komatsu machines.”

Defty and much of his staff of about 45 recently put several Komatsu pieces to use on a large vineyard project near Woodland. During about a three-week period, Diamond D crews moved about 50,000 yards of dirt and built four miles of road.

“We have full surveying and AutoCAD capabilities, although we don’t stamp plans,” he noted. “The customer chose us because our reputation and experience proved we could get it done within their time frame. It had to be completed before the rainy season hit. Working with their architect, we literally engineered the project as it went, making changes as needed. When we’re on a project of that scope and time frame, we have to have machinery that’s reliable, and Komatsu has always done the job for us.”

Defty said one reason for that is an aggressive preventive maintenance plan, performed by his mechanics. For larger repairs, such as hydraulic pumps, he turns to Road Machinery’s Sacramento branch. “We do the removal and installation, but Road Machinery takes care of the repair because they have the expertise to do that. We’ve been very pleased with their commitment to invest the manpower and time to meet our needs. They’ve been fair and easy to work with. We’re very happy to have them as our Komatsu dealer.”

Sanelli Heavy Equipment Rental

One aspect of agricultural management in California is the need to redo fields every few years. That often means clearing an entire plot of land, turning the soil and planting new nut and fruit trees or vines for produce, such as grapes. Although he didn’t start out working this area of the agricultural market, Tony Sanelli has become an expert in putting land on the right path to fruitful success.

Originally from Italy, Sanelli, who now owns Sanelli Heavy Equipment Rental along with his wife, Paulina, began working construction in 1949, when he first immigrated to Venezuela and started operating a dozer. After more than a decade working for the same company, there was no more work, so he left to find employment. He moved to his wife’s home country of Costa Rica, where he lived for a time, before eventually moving to the U.S. in the early 1960s, settling in Ohio to work construction with an uncle.

“The work dried up, so my wife and I decided to move west,” Sanelli recalled. “We settled in the Oakland area where I started working for a gentleman who rented motor graders and operators to other companies. People started asking if I was interested in working for them, because I had a lot of experience, so I bought a motor grader and went into business for myself as Sanelli Heavy Equipment Rental. One thing led to another, and the business built up to a point where I was spread out all over the valley, putting about 60,000 miles a year on my truck trying to keep up with all the jobs I had going on.”

Sanelli admits the work took its toll on him, so in 1988, he sold out and bought a 22-foot truck that he used to drive donations to an orphanage and needy people in small villages in Mexico. After about 10 years of doing that, he decided to get back to earthmoving, so he went to work running a motor grader for another company.

“That’s when I was introduced to deep ripping, and in 1997 I started doing that full time with my own dozers,” related Sanelli, who brought back the Sanelli Heavy Equipment Rental name. “It’s also when I started using Komatsu equipment, first buying a D375 dozer.”

Sanelli later traded that dozer and bumped up to an 860-horsepower D475. He recently added a second one. However, he wasn’t content with the standard ripper shank for the deep ripping jobs he does, so he invented his own Sanelli shank adapters. He says they make the shanks last longer, reducing their wear to zero, and they’re the key to a better way of shattering the soil.

“The idea behind deep ripping is to get six feet into the soil,” explained Sanelli. “Regular ripping leaves a narrow trench and quite a lot of undisturbed ground. My way gets the depth, but it also tills a larger, V-shape area, up to 12-feet wide on top. I call it ‘shattering.’ It promotes better root systems, which in turn produce a better crop.”

It also takes a sizeable machine, such as the D475, to pull the thicker shank system through the soil. “What we’ve found is the Komatsus have the power to get through the soil, but what I really like is that the Komatsu undercarriage lasts longer than that of a similar-size competitive machine that we use. Komatsu has a straight track, as opposed to the triangular shape. The difference is that Komatsu’s track lasts twice as long as the competitor’s track.”

Bordessa Dairy

While tracks aren’t a consideration for Gino Bordessa, machine stability is. Gino, along with his brother Jarrid and father, Gary, own and operate Valley Ford-based Bordessa Dairy. The Bordessas began operations in 1983 and 10 years ago, purchased a neighboring dairy. Between the two operations, Bordessa Dairy has more than 600 acres of land that feeds about 650 cattle.

When they purchased the second dairy, the Bordessas began transitioning to a fully organic operation and, about two years ago, achieved 100-percent organic status. No pesticides or antibiotics are used on the farm or cattle. Cattle feed on silage grown on land that’s fertilized with manure stored in holding ponds and composted on the farms. Along with silage, the cattle eat high-quality, tested hay that’s brought in.

“We raise all our own cows through breeding, and we believe our processes produce a very high-quality product,” said Gino, noting that milk is Bordessa Dairy’s only product. “We milk every day and store it on site in refrigerated tanks. Our customer brings in trucks to haul it out daily. In terms of size, we’re a relatively small operation, but we enjoy what we do. My brother and I are sixth-generation dairymen, so it’s been a family business for a long time.”

While Gino said that running the dairy isn’t necessarily an around-the-clock operation, it does take a commitment to long hours. The work involves feeding the livestock, which the Bordessas do with the help of a Komatsu WA200PT loader they purchased about two years ago. With a bucket attached, it loads hay and silage into a wagon. The Bordessas also fabricated forks for moving large bales of hay off trucks for storage.

“A bucketful of hay doesn’t weigh much, but the bales are about 1,200 pounds each,” said Gino, noting the WA200PT has a quick coupler for fast switches from bucket to forks. “Our forks will move four bales at a time which adds up, but the loader has no problem handling that load. We also use it to dig and move manure from the pits, and that can be quite a bit of weight in the bucket. The loader has good power and easily handles those heavy loads.

“I had a good idea it would get the job done before we even made the decision to buy it,” he added. “A good friend of mine runs a Komatsu loader in his business and recommended I try it out when I was looking for one. It was comfortable and had good visibility, a couple features I was really looking for.”

He was also looking for something with low maintenance costs. “We do the regular services ourselves, and that saves money, but a really nice feature that may get overlooked in terms of maintenance is the hydrostatic transmission. The dynamic braking means we’re not on the brake pedal a lot to slow it down. That saves wear and tear and lowers our operating costs.”

Bordessa Dairy is also pleased with the service after the sale that Road Machinery provides. “A while after we purchased it, they came out and followed up to see how we were getting along,” said Gino. “They double checked everything to make sure it was within specs and tolerances. There was a small adjustment needed to the ride control, and they took care of it right then. We’ve had no issues since, but Road Machinery continues to stay in contact. That says a lot about them and, as we look for additional equipment, that will be a big factor in their favor.”