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Equipment Hub: Self-propelled forage harvesters

Tucker Merz for Progressive Forage Published on 30 April 2020

Forage equipment is traditionally used to harvest and package crops such as grass, alfalfa, triticale, wheat, barley, oats, corn and sorghum. When harvesting grass, alfalfa or triticale, the product is most often cut with a swather or mower.

The rows are left to dry until the desired moisture content is reached. The rows are then pushed together with a merger or rake. The final step of the process is running a forage harvester through the merged rows, processing the crop into a truck and trailer or wagon, then hauling it to a dairy or feedlot to be stored until ready to feed.

When harvesting corn, sorghum, oats or other crops for feed, a forage harvester can be used to complete the entire process in one step, running the machine through an untouched field and processing it straight into trucks. Forage harvesters have also proven useful in the life cycle of newer specialty crops, including hemp for fiber and cannabidiol (CBD) oil use.

When it comes to making a decision to purchase forage equipment, there is a lot to consider. The first question most people need to decide is how they want to power the equipment, whether it is via a traditional tractor with a pull-behind machine or with a self-propelled machine. There are many pull-type forage equipment options available, as it’s more economical, increases use of the tractors around the farm and aligns better to a smaller or midsized farm. The other option is commercial-sized self-propelled forage equipment that significantly increases the costs but also the productivity.

Key things to look for

  • Feed roll and cutterhead configuration – The wider the crop mat is, the more consistent the cut quality will be to ensure high digestibility. Look for a machine with wide feed rolls and a wide cutterhead. Take time to consider the cut lengths of your forage to help you determine the best cutterhead configuration for your machine.

  • Knife layout – Knife configuration ranges from 2-by-8 to 2-by-20. The most popular configuration, a 2-by-10 or 20-knife drum, provides a length of cut range suitable for most North American harvesting requirements, providing a consistent chop length even under varying loads and speeds. If you need finer cutting, consider getting a knife drum with more knives such as a 2-by-12 (24-knife) or 2-by-16 (32-knife) drum.

  • Wear component design – Components that get more wear and tear (knives, chutes and wear plates) are designed to be easily removed and replaced. When wear components and crop flow design are well engineered, the customer saves both time and money when replacing the parts. If you run over 500 hours per year of forage through your machine, look at a heavy-duty version of the wear components.

  • Metal detection – We often hear of cases where a farmer inadvertently runs across an old fence or flag that had been staked in a field. Magnetic technology senses any form of metal and stops the feed rolls to prevent damage to the machine and keep metal fragments from reaching the animals’ feed. Some manufacturers even offer up to a five-year warranty for metal ingestion.

  • Eco-settings – Automatic settings allow the machine to run at peak horsepower and fuel economy while harvesting high yield and still be able to react quickly to changing crop conditions.

  • Adjustable crop processors – The operator can quickly and easily swing in a kernel processor for corn harvest. Look for designs that will save you time and be able to quickly react to changing crop conditions when you are changing between different crop types.

  • Operator comfort – Operator comfort is important to reducing stress and operator fatigue during long harvest days. Look for good seats, in-cab refrigerators, phone chargers and places to add a secondary display (as necessary). All these things will help increase comfort and ensure better productivity for the operator.

In the end, it all comes down to your return on investment. How quickly can you pay back the cost of the equipment or offset the cost of the equipment by getting forage harvested faster, with better nutritional quality, to ensure better weight gain per day or increased milk production?

Whether it’s a commercial operator or owner-operator, it’s all about nutrition and how that impacts the animals. When it comes to a forage harvester, you want the machine to maximize digestibility and nutritional quality in the feed.

If you are having trouble justifying the cost of a new self-propelled forage harvester, consider adding custom chopping as a revenue stream. Do you have any neighboring farms that have older machines that are inefficient or not delivering a quality product for the animals? Could you sell them the opportunity to hire you with a newer, more advanced forage harvester to deliver better forage for their farm and increase your own revenue stream?

This would be a win-win for each party, as they could sell their old machine, eliminate the high cost of replacement parts associated with chopping, and you can help justify buying that new forage harvester with all the latest technology.

What new forage equipment will make the biggest impact for you as you look to compete in 2020?  end mark

PHOTO: When it comes to a forage harvester, you want the machine to maximize digestibility and nutritional quality in the feed. Photo courtesy of New Holland.

Tucker Merz is a forage harvester product specialist at New Holland.