Dave Staheli thought an equipment manufacturer was going to market his invention. When that didn't happen, he started a major redesign, ending up with a machine that he says is much better than the original.
“Basically, we took our 14 years of field experience, added necessary features and designed out all the little quirks that the old machine had,” says Staheli, of Cedar City, UT.
The result is the DewPoint 6110, a dew simulator for big square balers that applies steam to dry hay at the baler. Compared to alfalfa baled conventionally, he claims it makes higher-quality, denser bales and dramatically increases baling capacity. A grower baling 40-50 acres per day with one baler can easily cover 200-250 acres per day with a baler and dew simulator, he says.
“I expect that it will change the industry,” Staheli states.
Equipped with a diesel-fueled boiler and 1,000-gallon water tank, the invention creates steam and injects it into the top and bottom of a windrow as it's lifted by the baler's pickup mechanism. More steam is applied as the hay passes through the feed chamber just before it's compressed. Unlike when water is sprayed on hay to simulate dew, steam is absorbed instantly, retaining leaves and softening the hay, says Staheli.
He built his first dew simulator in 1995, then, over the next three years, built several more and sold them to Western growers. Shortly after the invention was discussed in the January 1998 issue of Hay & Forage Grower, he signed a license agreement with the equipment company.
Due to problems unrelated to the simulator, according to Staheli, it wasn't marketed and the license expired in 2007. “We were happy to get it back,” he says. Since then, he's upgraded most of the components, including the axle, chassis, boiler and fuel-burning system.
“One of the main things we've done is develop a computer-based control system. It's made user-friendliness just phenomenal. Many of the processes the operator had to think about before have been automated, so now all he needs to do is maintain an optimum moisture level in the hay he's baling.”
A touch-screen monitor in the tractor cab lets the operator adjust the steam application rate on the go. Steam manifolds function independently, so moisture can be applied in balanced ratios to the top and/or bottom of windrows in response to changing field conditions.
Staheli says the 1,000 gallons of water typically last four to six hours, and the machine burns about a half gallon of diesel fuel per ton of hay.
He field-tested the 6110 last summer and introduced it to the marketplace in November. A limited number of units built for the 2010 growing season have all been sold. Production slots are still open for 2011.
The price: $150,000. Staheli says it's a sound investment for growers with 1,000 acres or more who currently have to wait for natural dew to start baling.
“One baler, one tractor, one DewPoint 6110 machine and one operator will replace up to four conventional balers,” he says. “They'll get more work done, they'll have a more consistent product, and it'll be far less expensive for them.”
Staheli says dew simulators will be operating in Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico this season.