By Debra Davis
Wade Helms has a streak of determination that’s typical among farmers. If he wants something done, he’ll figure out a way.
That, plus some divine intervention, led him to design an attachment that saves him, and other farmers, time and money during critical spring planting. Helms’ design is gaining popularity among Southeastern farmers and netted him $10,000 and the title of Alabama Farmers Federation Ag Innovation Challenge champion.
Helms lives in Dothan and farms in Houston and Geneva counties, where he grows peanuts, corn, cotton and oats. He developed an attachment that connects a strip-till machine and a set of planters, allowing the implements to complete two tasks at once. The invention launched Helms Manufacturing Co. LLC.
Helms won the inaugural contest sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Federation, Farm Bureau Bank, Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit earlier this year at the Federation’s Farm & Land Expo in Montgomery.
Jefferson County’s Michael Lynch of CHONEX was first alternate and won $5,000.
“Honestly, I cried when they called my name as the winner,” said 51-year-old Helms. “It is the grace of God that this happened to me. I knew this attachment was needed; I just had to figure it out.”
The “figure-it-out” phase took several months and the talents of a master welder — a skill Helms perfected in machinist school. It began when Helms backed his planter against the wall under his barn near Slocomb, then backed the strip till in front of it. Every time Helms passed the two, he contemplated a solution.
“Finally, it clicked and came together,” he said standing next to the heavy slabs of steel and hydraulic hoses connecting the machines. “I tried it, and it worked well. Then some friends tried it, and they liked it, too.”
After receiving a provisional patent, Helms has a permanent patent pending. He took his prototype to Holland Manufacturing in Dothan, which built 15 units that sell for just under $5,000 each.
Early in planting season, farmers often use a strip till to prepare a seed bed and take advantage of earlier planting a few days later when the soil warms.
But when delays happen, and tilling and planting need to be done quickly, Helms’ attachment can save farmers time and money. The two machines are linked, allowing them to cross the field in one pass.
“Some implement companies tried to make a similar attachment decades ago, but the tractors back then were not strong enough to lift both pieces of equipment at once,” Helms said. “Today, tractors are much stronger.”
Helms said he decided to enter the Ag Innovation Challenge after his mother saw it in Neighbors magazine and encouraged him to submit an application.
What will he do with his $10,000 prize money?
Helms said he gave 10% to his church and will apply some of it to his business loan. The rest will go toward building more units and advertising, he added. For videos and more information about Helms’ invention, find Helms Manufacturing Co. LLC on Facebook.