Moving bales, growing sales

Necessity is the mother of invention.

This age-old adage has been the mantra of Tri-L Manufacturing since its humble beginnings more than 40 years ago. In the late 1970s, Bob Lynch and his family needed a way to move round hay bales on their farm in Ozark, Mo. The big round balers were just catching on in popularity, and handling equipment was hard to find.

Bob, a mechanical engineer by trade, took matters into his own hands. Turning an old milk barn into a makeshift machine shop, he fashioned a hay fork that attached to the three-point hitch on his trac­tor. It worked like a charm. Soon, neighbors were asking if he’d build them one, too. Demand grew, and a business was born. Bob, his wife, Marie, and their sons opened Tri-L Manufacturing in 1979.

“Dad was a problem-solver,” said son Robert Lynch, who runs Tri-L today with his wife, Robin, and their daughter and son-in-law, Cortney and Brett Ruether. “Anytime there was a problem, he was always able to figure out an efficient way to address it. We started with the bale fork, and then later moved to the spear. That’s what Dad always did; he simplified things as he went along.”

Today, Tri-L’s product line has grown from one to more than 370 different attachments and parts for tractors, skid steers and ATVs. Hay-handling equipment is still a mainstay of the company’s catalog, including an improved variation of the hay spike that started it all, but the company now offers cultivation and clean-up equipment, pallet forks, several types of buckets and adapter plates for just about any machine.

This expanded product line developed the same way the company started—out of necessity, said Brett, who joined the company in 2015 and serves as chief financial officer.

“Product lines have grown as farming culture has changed and diversified,” Brett said. “One example is the subcompact tractor and skid steers. As those have become more popular on the farm, we’ve developed more attachments for them. Every farmer, whether it’s on a large scale or small scale, has different needs. And they’re looking to us to help service their needs.”

Tri-L products are still designed and fabricated on the Lynch family farm, but the company has grown well beyond the barn where Bob’s inventive idea took root. Manufacturing takes place in a 19,000 square-foot production facility, and the farmhouse has been converted into office space. The surrounding property serves as proving grounds for new equipment.

“My favorite part of this business is seeing the product from the drawing board to the finished unit and doing testing to see what needs to be tweaked and changed,” Robert said. “We’ve never had a product that’s been a 100% perfect from concept to finish. There always have to be changes made.”

The company annually turns out thousands of products with around 25 employees, including office personnel, designers, machinists, welders, assemblers and painters.

“We have a phenomenal staff, who are talented and hard­working,” Brett said. “We really promote customer service, not only externally but also internally, trying to help each other and problem solve. That really carries through everything we do.”

Tri-L’s field representatives often come back with ideas for new products based on observations and feedback from cus­tomers and dealers. For example, the “Big Bale Grabber” was introduced in 2018 in response to the popularity of wrapped silage hay. This attachment allows the bales to be lifted, moved and stacked without puncturing the plastic.

“Our sales staff is really interactive with our customers, whether it be through phone calls or personal visits,” Robert said. “They find out what’s important to our customers and what suggestions they may have.”

Those conversations from the field helped launch two new products this spring—the Square Bale Accumulator and Bale Raptor—in response to growing interest in square bales of hay and straw and the lack of labor to help haul them.

“We had a guy who came to us asking, ‘Can you do this?’ So we did,” Robert said. “With the bale accumulator, you’re gath­ering 10 square bales at one time, and the Bale Raptor is lifting them at one time. One person can essentially do all that would normally take three or four people to do.”

That kind of practical problem is what Tri-L employees love to solve. Equipment to clean up fencerows and fields are other solu­tions that have been developed and introduced over the last 10 years. Among those products is a skid steer-mounted tree puller that can grasp trunks up to 9 inches wide. Row-crop and cattle producer Glen Bailey found this attachment to be handy for not only uprooting trees but also moving fences on his farm in Cur­ryville, Mo. He’d seen the puller in action a couple of years ago at a “demo day” hosted by MFA Agri Services in Vandalia, Mo.

“I bought it to help clear trees from some land I bought, but what impressed me the most was that I was able to pull out some old hedge posts with concrete around them,” Bailey said. “I needed to move a fence line that was too close to the creek. If I didn’t have this tree puller, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get those hedge posts out. I would’ve had to saw them off.”

Similarly, when Dennis Isgrig of Mexico, Mo., needed to clear some overgrown ground, he turned to Tri-L’s Bigfoot Cutter, which he purchased in December through his local MFA. The 6-foot-wide rotary mower, which attaches to the front of his skid steer, is powerful yet highly maneuverable, he said.

“I bought it to clean up about 60 acres of CRP so they could get re-enrolled,” said Dennis, who raises 3,700 acres of row crops and runs a 100-head cow/calf operation. “I had borrowed one of these cutters from a friend a few times and knew it worked well and was reasonably priced. It’ll even mow down small trees and brush, and it’s great for pond dams in my cattle pastures, too. Before, all we had was our big mower, so we were always borrowing one for smaller jobs. I decided it was time we had our own.”

Any Tri-L product is available through retail loca­tions of MFA Incorporated, which has been a dealer for more than 20 years. The partnership is “mutually beneficial,” said Robin Lynch, who joined her hus­band full time in the business about 15 years ago.

“MFA has been an important part of Tri-L for half of our company’s life,” she said. “We work with a phenomenal buyers’ team there who collaborate with our sales force, giving us input and coming up with new ideas to help MFA stores and their customers.”

MFA chooses to offer Tri-L equipment because it’s both high quality and affordable, said Ryan Mauzey, MFA Farm Supply Divison product manager. Tri-L purposefully strives to provide that balance with every product it makes, Robert said.

“We try to make a product that’s heavy enough not to tear up under normal use, and then we’ve got to be economically priced as well,” he said. “So, you have to make it just heavy enough.”

With the company transitioning into the hands of the next generation, Robert said he believes what has made Tri-L so successful in the past will be the key to its future, too.

“As equipment changes, as needs change, we will just keep adding products,” he said. “The customers are our boss. We have to cater to them. And being a family-owned company, we can quickly address those needs.”

For more information about Tri-L Manufacturing and its growing line of products, visit www.tri-l.com or call 800-759-4159.

 

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