Modern agricultural lime spreaders trace their roots to 1945 when an inventive 33-year-old farmer and limestone quarry operator designed a machine that minimized dust clouds surrounding him as he applied lime to his fields. Christian Umble Stoltzfus’s drop spreader distributed powdered lime and crushed nutrients such as bone meal and rock phosphates close to the ground through evenly spaced holes in metal booms, each extending 15 feet horizontally from the machine’s center.
The truck-mounted spreader allowed faster, more accurate and efficient spread patterns over wide areas. Updated and refined over the next 70 years, its boom-style design endures as the benchmark process for applying dry flowing materials.
News of the spreader traveled quickly, and C. U., as he was known, set up shop in a grist mill he owned outside Morgantown in Pennsylvania Dutch country and began taking orders from applicators throughout the region. A few years later he developed a five-ton capacity, tractor-drawn version and sold it to growers and fertilizer dealers. C. U. had built the foundation for a family-owned enterprise that today supplies 24 spreader models to growers in North America, Southeast Asia, Australia, South Africa, South America, Central America, and the Middle East.
C. U.’s next big breakthrough came in 1976 with the invention of the wet lime spreader (WLS), enabling farmers to backhaul truckloads of inexpensive lime and stockpile it in corners of their fields for use when conditions allowed. By testing combinations of side slopes, conveyor chain widths and drop pan designs, he engineered a machine that kept this damp, lumpy material flowing evenly from the hopper at rates up to four tons per acre. Unit sales doubled annually during the first five years, and subsequent improvements achieved accurate fertilizer spreading with rates as low as 125 pounds per acre.
Ten years later C. U. applied lessons learned from development of the WLS and added lighter, bulky materials such as chicken litter, biosolids and compost to lime spreading while maintaining fertilizer precision. His Stoltzfus Bulk Material Spreader was first on the market to bring these capabilities together in a single machine.
In 1991 he led a design team that took wet lime and fertilizer spreading to the next level with the Stoltzfus Redhawk Ground Driven Spreader. The new machine incorporated an industry first dual-contact press wheel that married the load breakout strength of his WLS with the accuracy of ground-driven fertilizer spreaders.
C. U. turned over day-to-day management of his company in 1992 but remained active in design and development of new models and enhancements to existing equipment until he passed away in 2000 at age 88. “He loved tinkering with spreaders and came in every day with new ideas to improve them,” said Bernard Hershberger, grandnephew of C. U., who bought the company in 2009.
“He insisted that every spreader with a Stoltzfus logo be designed and engineered to perform reliably for decades, reminding everyone that uptime was the most precious commodity that farmers have. His inventions served as prototypes for virtually every lime spreader to follow, including those emulated by other manufacturers.”
Throughout his 55 years with the company, C. U. kept operations centered on spreading as the core competency, knowing that if Stoltzfus machines could effectively apply lime they also could spread most types of bulk material and fertilizer. “To this day spreaders are the only equipment that Stoltzfus Spreaders produces, and we have been doing it for seven decades, longer than any company in the U. S.,” Hershberger said
Looking to the future, Hershberger sees steady advances in electronic controls and data gathering and analysis that will bring unprecedented speed, precision, productivity and versatility to lime and fertilizer spreader technology.
“Stoltzfus will continue to lead the way with innovations that provide global markets with premium-grade lime, fertilizer and bulk material spreaders built tough for decades of reliable performance that carry on the legacy C. U. started in 1945,” he said.