Wildlife feed has opened additional markets for Alabama corn farmers, but direct marketing has its drawbacks — namely, it takes time. An innovative machine created by two high school friends, however, is helping farmers meet hunters’ needs with a self-service option.
Jason Spiller and Ben Burleson, both 47, live in Guin. Both have full-time jobs — Spiller works as a systems technician at 3M manufacturing plant and Burleson, who is a Marion County Farmers Federation board member, works for BNSF Railways and farms part time.
Their idea for a self-service corn dispenser, dubbed the Maize Kraize, was born when they saw their first stand-alone ice vending machine, Spiller said.
“I asked Ben if he’d ever thought about something like that since I knew he sold corn from his farm to deer hunters,” Spiller said. “He told me a lot of reasons why it wouldn’t work, but I saw those as challenges, not obstacles. The more we talked about it, the more we looked for ways to make it happen.”
Their first Maize Kraize was built and used on Burleson’s farm in 2016. After a few tweaks, the pair was ready to install their first machine when they discovered a federal law (enforced in Alabama) requires corn to be weighed on a National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP) certified scale system.
Always up for a challenge, Spiller said he was confident they could modify their machine to make it compliant.
“Some states have similar machines that don’t have scales, but because Alabama and other states require NTEP certification to sell grain, we were determined to build a machine that could satisfy the law,” Spiller said.
After meetings with staff from the weights and measure division of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and other agencies, the entrepreneurs mastered the NTEP certification process and added scales to their machines.
Since then, they’ve sold and installed four Maize Kraize systems, which cost just under $40,000. Machine owners supply the corn and refill the storage bin as needed. Buyers can purchase 20-550 pounds and deposit money through an electronic payment system. Customers fill bags, buckets, barrels and pickup beds with corn that flows through a pipe.
Franklin County Farmers Federation board member Thomas Murray bought a Maize Kraize about two years ago. His system holds 8.5 tons of corn and is on family land near the intersection of Alabama Highway 24 and Franklin County Road 77, about 10 miles from his farm in the Bethsaida community.
“We’ve been selling corn off the farm to hunters for the past 15 years, and it’s a good alternative market for us,” said Murray, who also grows cotton, peanuts, soybeans and wheat with his two sons. “The Maize Kraize is a lot more convenient for customers and for me. Some customers come buy corn at midnight. The machine is always open.”
Murray said he sold enough corn the first year to pay for the machine. He said he sells corn for livestock and poultry owners, too, but hunters are his best customers.
“During our busiest time of the year, we have to refill the bin with corn every five days,” he said. “A new law that allows hunting over bait (including corn) will probably increase our sales even more.”
Burleson said corn farmers are a natural market for the Maize Kraize but added location plays a big role in its success.
“Finding the right spot where the machine is highly visible, convenient for hunters and easy for a farmer to refill is the best combination,” he said.
For more information, visit MaizeKraize.com.