Done at its best, hay conditioning can shave two to five days off drying time, helping maintain harvest cycles and ensuring top-quality hay.
Producing consistent, top-quality hay requires tight management of harvest schedules to get hay cut at the proper time, then dried, baled and moved off the field quickly so the next cycle can begin.
Proper hay conditioning is a key element in meeting crop cycle objectives, says Dean Morrell, AGCO product marketing manager for Hesston by Massey Ferguson hay products and a 35-year-veteran of the quality-hay business. “If you don’t condition the crop, and condition it well, staying on a 28- to 32-day hay harvest cycle can be tough,” he says. “Conditioning can save two to five days in drying time, so it is a crucial aspect of keeping on schedule.” Keep in mind, hay plants at 80 percent moisture must lose about 6,000 lbs. per acre of water to produce a ton of hay at 20 percent moisture. Conditioning crimps the stem, opening up the waxy cuticle layer of the stem, letting the plant moisture evaporate faster.
Operators’ manuals provide full details on how to adjust and run specific conditioners. Here are tips from Morrell that outline four important steps in achieving superior conditioning results, no matter what the model:
- Set the conditioner roll gap at 1/16 inch or less, which creates noticeable breakage of the stem skin to speed stem drying. Setting the gap too tight crushes leaves, increasing loss of critical nutrients. “Setting the roll gap is the most crucial adjustment of the conditioner,” says Morrell.
- Set roll tension tight enough to achieve a consistent roll gap. If the crop is being over-conditioned, such as with less mature crops, loosen the roll gap tension. Reducing tension also can help solve plugging challenges. In addition, be sure to check that the rolls have not worn more in the center than the ends. Replace worn rolls, since consistent roll condition and diameter are vital to maintain uniform pressure and consistent results for even crop drying.
- The third critical conditioning element is laying out an even windrow that is as flat and wide as possible without lumps, ridges or clumps of crop. This reduces drying time for better leaf retention and faster, more consistent harvest cycle time. For the widest possible windrow, set the swath board all the way down (at its lowest/flattest possible position).
- It’s also critical to keep up to date on regular maintenance to ensure peak machine performance. Be sure to visit your local dealer to stock up on knives, cutterbar teeth, guards, ledger plates, common bearings, belts and other common repairs before the hay season starts, to minimize downtime from common breakdowns. Dealers often have a list of recommended parts for on-farm stocking and may offer preseason discounts for parts purchases.
With alfalfa acres uncertain after the 2012 drought and both grass and alfalfa hay inventories low in many areas, brisk demand for high-quality hay is expected again in 2013. Whether producing hay for your own use or to sell, making the most of the available crop begins with cutting. Timing, technique and equipment all play important roles in success. Following are some helpful reminders as producers go into the 2013 production season.
“Cutting hay is often dictated by the environment and the hay-drying conditions, but a general rule is to cut after the dew is gone and when topsoil is dry, to reduce soil compaction and facilitate better drying of the crop,” says Dean Morrell, AGCO product marketing manager for Hesston by Massey Ferguson hay products and a 35-year-veteran of the quality-hay business. Research has shown that hay quality is higher when hay is cut while the sugar content remains higher in the plant. As daytime air temperatures rise, sugar content in the plant decreases, so cutting later in the morning or early afternoon results in lower hay quality.
The demands of the environment and the individual operation also will influence the choice in equipment used. Modern sickle-type or disc-type mowers, windrowers and swathers are capable of cutting forage crops fast and cleanly, leaving a smooth, even windrow that maximizes crop dry-down. Disc mowers offer the advantage of allowing hay to be cut earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when better leaf moisture means less loss of nutrient-rich leaves.
“No matter what machine is being used, there are several things people should strive for when they cut hay,” explains Morrell. “First, you want a good, clean cut that will leave the plants with as little stem damage as possible, so they’re ready for quick regrowth. Second, you don’t want to leave any crop behind, and it’s also important to minimize dirt in the crop.”
Here are tips from Morrell for maximizing tonnage of high-quality hay with any mower or mower conditioner model:
• Proper blade maintenance is critical to achieving a good cut. Blades must be sharp to cut the forage cleanly and to minimize stem and leaf shattering. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations on blade-change intervals, and be sure to stock up on replacement blades before hay season starts.
• Choose the right blade for the job. Shallower 10- or 11-degree blades create less air lift, thus pulling less dirt into the forage. If less suction works for your crop conditions, these blades can be a good choice. Thick, matted forage may require a blade with more lift, such as an 18-degree blade. Bottom-beveled blades have an advantage if they hit a stone or rock because they bend upward, away from the cutter bar.
• Set the cutting height at 1.5 to 3 inches. This reduces contamination from dirt, making the crop easier to rake and to pick up with the baler. To avoid dirt and ash contamination and reduce knife and general mower wear and tear, avoid pitching the cutter bar downward at too steep an angle.
• Set the header flotation height to avoid scalping the soil surface and wavy cutting height from one end of the field to the other. Ideally, the cutter will gently float across the ground without scuffing the surface. If you see scuffs or dirt streaking across the field, you don’t have enough flotation pressure, or the mower is set too heavy. If you see waves in the field, you have too much flotation pressure, or the header is set too light. Where the field surface is rough and uneven, flotation should be increased, making the head lighter to glide over rough terrain. When running the head heavier on the self-propelled unit, optional gauge wheels are recommended.
• With mower conditioners, turbulence (or windage) created by the conditioning rolls can blow the crop from its upright position before it is cut, resulting in an uneven cut. If this is a problem, increase ground speed or slow the conditioning system, or do a combination of the two, to reduce turbulence for a cleaner cut.
• Lay the windrow out as flat and wide as possible by setting the swathboard to its lowest possible setting (all the way down). A wide windrow maximizes dry-down by providing the best exposure to wind and sunlight.
• Be sure to check your owner’s manual for daily and regular service and maintenance needs to ensure peak machine performance. And, stock up on key replacement parts such as cutter blades, sickle sections, guards, drive belts and hoses to reduce costly downtime from minor breakdowns. Dealers often have a list of parts recommended for on-farm stocking and may offer preseason discounts for parts purchases.
Hesston has been providing innovation and solutions to farmers since 1947, and is the industry leader in hay-harvesting products. For more information about Hesston by Massey Ferguson products or to find a dealer near you, visit hesston.com.
The AGCO Africa Summit in Berlin in January came and went by very quickly but not so fast as to deny me of memorable moments. First of all I would like to thank AGCO for granting me this great opportunity as their Africa Ambassador 2013. It was overwhelming to be chosen via the video contest from more than 30 applicants and it was a great experience to host such a top-class international conference.
As was to be expected, the high profile representatives from industry and government from within and outside Africa left indelible impressions on me with their varying perspectives about agriculture. Agriculture plays a major role in Africa’s future and the world’s food security. It was not a surprise that the final keynote speech by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, was potent enough to make any businessman, who may have never considered becoming a farmer, to entertain thoughts of serious involvement in ‘agri-business’.
Meeting and interacting with experts of various nationalities and cultures who all have Africa in common one way or another was indeed an experience of high value. It was a particular delight and also a deep honor to announce the speeches of Former Presidents John Agyekum Kufuour (Ghana) and Horst Koehler (Germany).
I cherish the memories of each distinguished speaker that I had the honor of presenting but there is certainly one that stands out much more than any of the others in my mind. Laetitia Mukungu started her entrepreneurial journey at a very young age and indeed at the time of the conference she was 16 or 17 years old. Her delivery of the story of how she started her foray into rabbit farming in Kenya was as remarkable as the content of the story itself. It is no wonder that she is a 2012 Anzisha Fellow, one of several laurels that I expect this young dynamic woman to win. (She has also most recently won the Diana Prize, March 2012.)
Laetitia spoke very clearly about how and why she started rabbit farming, an initiative that would grow into an excellent example of social entrepreneurship with her Women Rabbit’s Association and My Idea Rabbit Center. Her presentation about why she chose rabbits over other livestock was so compelling that I have begun to ponder why I should not start my very own rabbit farm in Nigeria.
The AGCO Africa Summit, Agriculture in Africa – From Vision to Action, served as a call to action for all involved; policy makers, farmers, financiers and entrepreneurs. Participants got insight into the peculiarities of the African agribusiness landscape with the incredible opportunities available through sustainable agriculture.
I am certainly pleased to have been involved and I am grateful to AGCO’s leadership and very talented international team for the opportunity. It was a great honor to meet and interact closely with Martin Richenhagen , Nuradin Osman and several other inspiring leaders of this leading global agricultural equipment manufacturer.
This report would be incomplete without mentioning the delight of experiencing Germany for the first time: the food, the people and the architecture that had me take pictures and video clips enough for a mini documentary. Visiting Berlin in the dead of winter was indeed as cold as expected but the allure of the city could not be overcome by the snow and chill. The sophistication of the city and its rich history is hard to go unnoticed while looking through the windows of your taxi or while going on foot down any Strasse.
I look forward to another trip to Berlin, but more importantly I envision the many great and innovative actions that AGCO, its partners, customers, suppliers and you and I will take on in the coming years for agriculture in Africa. Thank you AGCO for your commitment in Africa and thanks to all the participants for moving last year‘s conversation forward – I am glad to be a part of this and I am happy to be your AGCO Africa Ambassador in 2013.
Massey Ferguson introduces three new rotary rakes, designed to help hay producers optimize hay quality and create windrows that increase baling efficiency and capacity.
These dual-rotor models also feature “jet effect” rotor lifting. When the rotor is lowered from headland to working position, the “jet effect” lets the rear of the rotor touch down first (like an airplane landing), which prevents the tines from scalping the soil surface and contaminating the windrow. This also helps extend the tine life.
Standard on each dual-rotor rake with transport chassis is the exclusive ROTORFLEX™ suspension system, which allows rotors to gently “float” from front to back and side to side, so the baskets work together to gather the crop into a more uniform and manageable windrow in uneven, rough terrain.
“While the rakes are gentle on hay, they’re built sturdy to deliver years of reliable service, and the extra-tough tines can handle many hours in the field,” explains Morrell.
Finally, the drive system features helical-cut gears to provide more torque than straight-cut gears, as well as deliver longer driveline and rotor life. To prevent damage and operator error, the RK Series is equipped with sealed-grease gearboxes for smooth movement, main-drive gearboxes that automatically swivel when the machine is folding, a simple hydraulic system and overrunning clutches.
Creating a farm business from scratch, the Leep family never wanted to “go into business.” Instead, they planned to “grow into business.” Their approach was a success and now they run an operation, Leep Hay & Grain, that covers some 5,000 acres and supports three generations of their family.
See the video and read about the secrets to their success, one of which is relying on versatile, dependable and efficient Massey Ferguson and Hesston equipment.
On Operational Basics:
We aim to maintain a strong liquidity. We only borrow money for land. That’s enabled us to have patience in marketing, to pay cash for equipment … which gave us some discounts.
When setting up irrigation systems, you can’t be afraid of obstacles, such as hills or ditches, or things like that. We learned from a man we worked for early on … who would rearrange the land or bridge canals.
We rotate alfalfa. That rotation gets nitrogen back into the soil, breaks up the disease cycles and things like that. We’ve typically left alfalfa in four to six years, and then go a couple years of wheat and a couple of years of barley.
On Equipment: The Leeps run a fleet of Massey Ferguson and Hesston equipment that includes seven tractors (2, MF8660; 3, MF7618 and 2, MF7622); two WR9770 windrowers; and three large square balers (2, MF2170 and 1, MF2150). We weren’t hesitant at all to stick with Massey equipment. We still go and run some of the competing brands. I just ran one the other day, but I was like really happy with ours after that. I was unloading hay at a customer’s place and I thought the Massey was balanced better. It was smoother. The hydraulics were better. The visibility was better in the Massey. … I fell in love with them all over again.
On The Future:
Obviously being in agriculture we have a real affinity for the land and care about what happens to it and want to preserve it. There’s a lot of development pressure here, but our county passed an open space bond, which enabled people to enter into permanent conservation easements and get some payment toward the diminished [potential value] that was forfeited. So, that was an incentive for us, as well as the federal tax benefit, so we did do that on two of our properties. Preserving the land and having kids interested in agriculture was certainly a factor too.
For more of the Leeps’ tips, as well as videos featuring their scenic outdoor “office,” see “Growing Into Business” on myFarmLife.com.
Share your tips for successful farming with us. We’ll publish a few of the best in a future post.