A machine that adds steam to hay as it moves into a big square baler is gaining popularity with Western growers tired of waiting for natural dew.

They’ve bought more than 120 of Staheli West’s DewPoint 6110 units since they were introduced in 2009. The dew machines, or “steamers” – which typically run in evenings when Mother Nature isn’t providing the moisture that holds leaves onto alfalfa stems – produce quality hay, say growers.

Pulled ahead of a baler in a one-pass operation, a DewPoint consists of a diesel-fueled boiler that creates steam and a 1,000-gallon water tank. It injects moisture into the top and bottom of a windrow as the baler’s pickup lifts it. As the hay moves through the feed chamber and before it’s compressed, more steam is injected.

A fully equipped unit averages about $178,000, says Dave Staheli, the machine’s inventor and president of the Cedar City, UT, company. The newest option available with it: A Gazeeka moisture meter mounted on the baler. It uses microwaves to test the amount of moisture within a bale.

“It really takes the guesswork out of how much moisture you’re getting into the bales,” Staheli says.

Eastern Grower Invests In Dew Machine
Western growers aren’t the only ones interested in the DewPoint 6110.

Ryan Schwebach, McIntosh, NM, bought a DewPoint three years ago. The steamer makes for faster baling that leads to an extra cutting and high-quality alfalfa bales, he says.

Being able to schedule harvests gains him added management control and eliminates late-night watches in attempts to “catch the dew.” Schwebach says the machine was paid for by the end of the first year he ran it – on 1,300 alfalfa acres during “one of the driest years we’ve had.”

This year, he’s making 4 x 4 x 8’ bales of wheat hay in addition to bales from 700 alfalfa acres. The baler packs steamed wheat hay into 1,700-lb bales rather than the normal 1,250 lbs, Schwebach says.

“We’ve actually learned a lot more on how to manipulate the machine to make a better bale,” he points out. If the undersides of windrows are already moist enough, for example, he shuts off the manifold that distributes steam there and just adds moisture to the windrow tops.

The grower also adjusted his windrowers to make slightly narrower windrows. That way he can bale without raking if need be. “Usually we’ll rake two windrows together, but if you don’t catch the dew, you can’t rake.

“What we’re finding is that most of the damage to our hay is coming from our rakes. So we just changed our swathers; if we don’t get a good dew to rake on, we don’t rake.”

He advises growers new to the machine to also invest in good balers.

Commercial hay growers from Staheli’s hometown of Enterprise, UT, became believers in the DewPoint after seeing it put up their crop – for free – during a 72-hour baling marathon.

Four growers, all with alfalfa fields in the vicinity, somewhat cautiously lent them, raked and ready, to Staheli.

His purpose for the 72-hour challenge: “We had never really put the DewPoint through the full test of how much hay we could push through it in a given amount of time under fairly trying conditions. We’ve heard from growers of the number of acres and tonnages they’ve put through in a 24-hour period. So we decided to extend that over 72 hours.”

In that time, Staheli and his crew estimated they would harvest 4,500, 3 x 4 x 8’ bales pairing their machine with a John Deere 7280R tractor with 280 engine horsepower and a Hesston by Massey Ferguson 2170 baler.

They made their goal and then some, producing 4,648 bales with little humidity and 30-mph winds. Time was taken only to refuel, refill the unit’s water tank and the baler’s twine holders, change operators – and show growers how to operate the DewPoint.

“We actually wanted to go into a place where there weren’t any DewPoint machines currently. What ended up being a perfect setting was Enterprise Valley. I knew enough people there that I hoped they would be cooperative,” Staheli says.

“But, even as we started the 72-hour challenge, there were still a lot of anxious people, nervous about us coming in and doing that much of their hay a totally different way. I knew, once they saw what we were accomplishing and how the hay looks, that their attitudes would be calmed down. And they were.”

Two of the four growers became Staheli customers.