When his sons left home more than five years ago, Ken Sargent had no one to help haul hay bales. He didn’t want to abandon farming, but he also wasn’t going to shell out money for hired help or a complex system he could operate alone.

So Sargent, also a metalworker, designed the Accumagrapple, a tractor-loader attachment that makes it possible for one person to gather, load and unload square bales.

“‘We really need to do this in one shot, pick it up and load it on the trailer,” Sargent remembers saying to himself. “That makes it affordable for the little guy.”

The Accumagrapple attaches to a front-end or skid loader and is pushed along the ground to collect square bales. The standard model can handle up to 10 bales, while the Elite model can hold 15.

After bales are gathered, they’re secured by hydraulic hooks to be lifted and loaded onto a truck or trailer.

Russell Smith used an early prototype on his farm for years. He’s a longtime friend of Sargent’s and now sales manager at Maxilator, Sargent’s Rockmart, GA, company. He handled up to 40,000 bales with it – as many as 1,200 in a day – working alone or with only a truck driver, he says.

Although he had been producing mostly round bales, Smith switched to squares when he realized they, with an Accumagrapple, would be more cost-effective. The machine costs about $6,000, and can pay for itself in about one year compared to the cost of hiring three workers, Smith says.

“This changed our world completely,” he says. “Now we can do 1,000 bales in a day, pick them out of the field the next day and never have to hire any help.”

Sales were slow for the first few years, confined mostly to Georgia. But last year they took off; Maxilator sold about 280 units and is on pace to sell between 500 and 600 this year, Sargent says.

After beginning in the Southeast, sales have steadily expanded across the country, with the Accumagrapple now being sold in every state through a system of distributors. Orders have also come in from Canada, Australia and South and Central America, Smith says.

Maxilator is a small company of seven employees, so Sargent and Smith are relying on grassroots support to spread the word and grow the customer base. It’s donating one machine to the University of Georgia. The university will study whether bales lose much hay being dragged on the ground, one worry some farmers have had about the machine.

Sargent is targeting older producers who may have switched to round bales, but would prefer to pick up a few hundred square bales a day. “They have the equipment; they have their balers sitting over there. They just can’t get any help getting bales up.”

Watch a video of the machine at work.

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