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Hesston StakHand was revolutionaryHesston StakHand was revolutionary

Then and Now: An ad in the Sept. 4, 1976, issue of Nebraska Farmer touts the benefits of using Hesston StakHand technology to put up corn stover.

Curt Arens

August 23, 2023

3 Min Read
large round baler in field
MAKING HAY: Today, the large round baler is among the most popular tools in the field for making hay. But in its day, the Hesston Stakhand was a revolutionary concept that made the labor-intensive job of making hay into a one-person operation.Curt Arens

Many farm innovations that producers appreciate most across the Great Plains involve making hay. The task, once done by hand, was time-consuming and took plenty of labor.

Anyone who spent hot, dusty hours in a haystack — pulling in and stomping down the corners and piling the hay to top out a stack — appreciated the new technology of the Hesston StakHand when it first hit the market in 1970.

At the time, it was the first loose hay stacker commercially available. The six-ton capacity StakHand 60, for instance, made a stack that was 8 by 20 by 11 feet.

Corn stover

We found an ad in the Sept. 4, 1976, issue of Nebraska Farmer, touting the benefits of using a StakHand to put up corn stover. The ad notes that the machine, which produced what many farmers would call “breadloaf” stacks, could be equipped with paddle pickups to harvest and stack standing stover in one pass through the field. This made putting up stover a one-person job.

StakHand was available at the time in (Model 10) 1-, (Model 30) 3-, and (Model 60) 6-ton capacity models, with production rates of 80 tons of hay per day well within their abilities. There were farmers who were making 6-ton stacks traveling 12 mph through the field.

At the time, they were the quickest method of putting up hay. Thanks in part to the StakHand, Hesston, based in Hesston, Kan., was the country’s ninth-largest equipment manufacturer and the top manufacturer of haying equipment in the nation by the mid-1970s, employing more than 2,500 workers. To complement the StakHand, Hesston also produced the StakMover and the StakFeeder.

Founded by Lyle Yost and Adin Holdemann in Hesston, Kan., in 1947, Hesston Machine and Manufacturing began by building an unloading auger that increased productivity and safety. In 1955, Hesston entered the haymaking industry, introducing the first self-propelled windrower — a Hesston 100.

Round balers came along

At the height of popularity of the StakHand, in 1976, Hesston began to have financial challenges. The company sold controlling interest shares to Fiat Corp., based in Italy, but manufacturing remained in Kansas. In 1991, Agco purchased Hesston, and that’s where the company is today, under the Massey-Ferguson lineup.

Today, old StakHands are still employed in the field in many parts of the country — particularly in the West — and they remain quite popular with some farmers for putting up corn stover. However, the machines lost popularity among farmers with the arrival of efficient large round balers and large square balers on the market. The last Hesston 60B StakHand was made in 1985.

The legacy of the StakHand, perhaps, is that when it came into the market, these machines offered one of the first one-person haying operations, so farmers could get the hay in a form that could be handled with machinery and safely stored in the field. It took the haymaking labor pressure off many operations for the first time, particularly for those farms depending heavily on forages.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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