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Innovating to increase production

Melissa Beck for Progressive Forage Published on 01 March 2020

At the Oklahoma 4-H Roundup, way back in the 1980s, there was a demonstration of a small robotic tractor prototype conducted by John Deere.

At the time, that technology seemed like Back to the Future, and it was difficult for us 4-H members to envision how it could be practically scaled to realistic production levels. Today, it is a reality and just in time to solve some of our pressing problems in agriculture.

It’s an exciting time in agriculture technology in general, and the area of hay production is no exception. Innovations in hay production are driven by several factors: improving efficiencies, solving problems, minimizing costs, creating a comfortable and safe experience, as well as addressing the growing labor shortage in agriculture. Here are some of the recent and emerging innovations from three of the top hay-equipment manufacturers.


Vermeer is a family-owned corporation in Pella, Iowa, whose founder, Gary Vermeer, invented the round baler in 1971. Vermeer’s governing philosophy is “There has to be a better way.” Mark Core, executive vice president Forage Solutions-CMO says, “If you’re going to be a really strong specialist company, you better be highly innovative to remain relevant in the marketplace, create jobs, return to the shareholders and ultimately make your customers’ lives more productive and profitable. You’ve got to be out there on the ragged edge of innovation.”

Vermeer’s ZR5, the first of its kind self-propelled baler, has improved efficiencies by 1.6-1.9 times compared to the traditional round baler. Core says, “I’m not sure if there has been a product launch in agriculture in the last 10-20 years that has changed productivity to that degree. There have been a lot of great innovations in row-crop agriculture, hay and forage, other sectors that have made nice little 5% to 10% bumps, but making a 60%, 90% or 100% bump in productivity over what has been known for the last almost 50 years of the round baler, that is exciting.”

Being attuned to the needs of producers is key. One of the most pressing issues in all of agriculture is the shortage of labor, Core says. “Our biggest focus as an organization right now is how to help producers manage the labor shortage and the qualified or experienced labor gap that exists in the marketplace.”

Vermeer’s 6-feet-by-4-feet 604 Premium round baler and the ZR5 both have tailgates that open and close automatically at the end of the wrap cycle and demonstrate the type of innovative features that reduce fatigue and increase consistency of time and, according to Core, allow for more novice operators to be successful and excited about what they do.

Vermeer is the first to market with a net lift system, a hoist with electric winch that helps load the net wrap for the operator. This innovation levels the field, turning a cumbersome and often two-person job into something manageable and safe for most operators regardless of their physical strength. Core says, “If you go to hay fields and observe, you would notice loading net wrap as a pain point in the baling process.”

The average age of agriculture producers is approaching 60 years old. Bailey Boyert, senior marketing specialist at Vermeer says, “Several of our customers see the value in the net lift system and have said, ‘Thank you! My dad still bales a lot, and this enables him to continue to do so. We’re seeing the older generation excited about the opportunity of not having to worry about their father or grandfather loading the rolls by themselves or having to send a second person to the field to help load a roll of wrap.”

Core says, “Life is better for the producer and the livestock, and life will be better for our consumer enjoying that wholesome end product – beef. That’s what motivates and rejuvenates us.”

Look for more innovations from Vermeer in the coming months. They’ve just acquired Schuler, a total mixed ration feed wagon company, and are working on innovations to enhance that high-quality line of equipment.


Matt LeCroy, marketing manager for hay and forage at Agco-Hesston, says, “Everything we do from concept to final product is to make the highest-quality hay possible regardless of the size of the farm.”

The new RB series of round baler helps producers make “hay in a day.” These balers can be used for stover, wheat straw, dry hay and also are able to bale wet hay and wrap it, making it a versatile piece of equipment.

Agco-Hesston works closely with universities and extensions; they spend a lot of time on farms actually cutting, raking and baling hay with an eye to what problems they can solve. They’re heavily invested in producer education and conduct “Hesston Knows Hay” educational events around the country.

Their guidance system and electro-hydraulic drive system is unique to the market and improves efficiencies by increasing ground speeds at cutting from 8 or 9 miles per hour without the guidance system up to 17.8 miles per hour in ideal field conditions using the guidance system. The guidance system also improves efficiency by reducing overlap and skips.

LeCroy says they are developing tractor implement management (TIM) technology, which will increase or decrease the tractor ground speed to make the bale density consistent with what the producer has set in the system.

Another innovation Agco-Hesston introduced at the World Ag Expo in February is the Bale Link app which works with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology in the twine. This patented system has an RFID chip embedded in the twine for large square bales, and the information is stored on the cloud and tells the coordinates where that bale is located, how much it weighs, how many flakes are in it, as well as the moisture content. LeCroy says, “Future aspirations for this product are to be able to analyze feed values and have that information stored in there as well; the technology isn’t quite there yet to read that information as fast as needed during baling, but we’re working towards that.” Hay buyers will be able to access the data with a handheld reader after the hay is purchased as well. Each bale will have a unique identification number.

John Deere

John Deere has a long legacy of innovation to help farmers achieve the best possible outcomes on every pass of a machine over the field, improving results and minimizing variability. Innovation has always been essential to John Deere’s DNA. Chris Borgman, product marketing manager for John Deere, says, “We’ve been a pioneer in automation and precision technology.”

Deere is focused on innovation by investing in new technology development across a number of areas. No one in the industry invests more in research and development than Deere, and they remain committed to that strategy. Deere once again proved this to be true with the acquisition of Blue River Technology, significantly advancing the artificial intelligence (AI), machine-learning technology available to today’s farmers.

Borgman says, “Artificial intelligence has potential to be a significant solution to reduce chemical use and create more sustainable farming practices. Innovating and investing in this area is a priority for John Deere. Farmers need to spray crops to eliminate weeds and pests, in order to produce healthy, high-quality food. By integrating AI into the spraying process, farmers can be very precise, applying fertilizer and crop protectants in only the exact spots needed rather than spraying entire fields.”

Four of John Deere’s newest innovations are:

1. The Plus2 Round Bale Accumulator allows bale placement to be controlled, thereby reducing wheel traffic on fields, which can increase yield on future cuttings and reduce retrieval time and cost.

2. The Baler Assist drivetrain system provides operators the ability to hydraulically control their large square baler, requiring less time removing plugs and servicing balers and more time in the field.

3. The Bale Mobile App ties together moisture and weight on a flake-by-flake basis. This information allows producers to monitor moisture and yield with their large square baler, providing valuable information to producers as they make marketing and agronomic decisions.

4. The HarvestLab 3000 with constituent sensing is one sensor with three distinct applications. When installed on a John Deere forage harvester, the sensor provides on-the-go moisture sensing and can adjust the length of cut based on these measurements. The HarvestLab 3000 sensor can also provide constituent data such as starch, crude protein, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber and other measurements as harvested.

As a stand-alone sensor, it can provide moisture and constituent measurements of ensiled crops. As a third application, the sensor can be equipped to measure constituents within manure, allowing producers applying liquid manure to more accurately analyze, adjust and document gallons applied per acre to meet specific nutrient targets.

Innovations by these companies and many others will ensure that we continue to overcome obstacles, such as a shrinking labor pool and aging producer population, and be able to sustainably and efficiently put up high-quality hay and enjoy doing it.  end mark

Melissa Beck is a freelance writer based in Stillwater, Oklahoma.