Practical research and development played an integral role on his farm and in his feedlot near Watrous, Sask.
“I found it easy to build my own equipment or alter equipment. If I needed something, I wasn’t afraid to do something different,” Redekop said.
That love of innovation led him from the farm and feedlot to a successful business near Saskatoon that provides crop residue management options for farmers around the world.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Redekop worked with provincial agriculture department staff, scientists and engineers from the Saskatchewan Research Council and the University of Saskatchewan, collecting chaff and ammoniating it to produce an inexpensive, nutritious feed source for cattle.
Redekop said equipment for this process was available as early as the 1950s, but was primitive and ineffective with newer and larger farm equipment.
He saw enough potential in the chaff
carts and related equipment that he
sold his farm and started Redekop Manufacturing near Saskatoon.
His first products were chaff saver carts and chaff blowers that attached to combines.
“We did not develop those. They were available and we used them, but there was no mechanized way to handle the material. What got us into the business was we designed a large vacuum that vacuumed up these chaff piles,” he said.
“Then we bought out the last company selling the chaff equipment. That slowly led to the development of a straw chopper. We didn’t plan on that. We were in the livestock area collecting the straw and chaff for livestock feed. We thought, ‘let’s put it into the form of a chopper that would chop and blow.’ “
For farmers who didn’t collect chaff and straw for livestock feed, Redekop built a spreading attachment.
“Lo and behold, because we were blowing it, which no other chopper did, we had a wide spread straw chopper on our hands,” he said.
“That was exactly the year you could fill a hall with farmers if you were going to talk about direct seeding or zero tillage.”
Residue management is a key component of zero tillage. Redekop became known as a company with equipment that would effectively chop and spread straw.
“We (initially) built equipment and sold after-market straw choppers on a small scale. That led major manufacturers to us. They had nothing suitable for their combines that would match the requirements for no till.
“We started building for several companies. They came to us, one by one. … All but one company in North America is using some or all of our equipment in residue management on their combines.”
Redekop said he always strived for simplicity when building equipment or refining designs.
“Our choppers have always had wide spreading and fine cutting. With the original choppers, they didn’t concentrate on either of those.”
When zero till came in, farmers wanted to spread as wide as the header or swather.
“We tried to keep pace with that. When 30, then 36 feet came, we developed to that. When 42 and 45 feet were asked for in the last three or four years, we’ve expanded to that.
“The same rotor cuts and spreads. Our choppers now produce a tremendous amount of air, at the right place, to spread it, at the same time maintaining fine cutting. Most other choppers either spread wide or cut well, but not both.”
Redekop farmed out a lot of the work when his company started, but over time he’s added water jet and laser cutting equipment and machining and lathe centres.
“Now we’re on the other end of it, with more capability than we need, so we can do custom work for others,” he said. “A lot of our equipment is automated. A lot of it operates lights out, at night, so we can keep our staff down and let the machines do the work.”
Automation has allowed the company to expand productivity nearly 10 fold, while keeping the shop running at 25 to 30 staff.
As the market evolved, the chaff collecting side has dropped off.
“Our straw chopper business now would be 10 to 15 times as large as the chaff collecting side of the business,” he said.
Redekop and his wife, Helen, are easing out of the business as their sons, Kevin and Gary, take a more active role.
Leo is focusing almost exclusively on research and development of new products.