“Now that I've baled it, I'm not scared of it anymore,” says Clay Dell, who harvested switchgrass last fall for Genera Energy's cellulosic ethanol pilot facility in Vonore, TN.

An Agco product specialist, Dell demonstrated the company's Massey Ferguson 2150 3 x 3' big square baler in late November. He also gained insight on how the potential energy crop should be handled.

The first field he baled had been planted in switchgrass just the year before and the crop was about 6' high. “It was pretty easy baling,” Dell says, because he baled right behind a mower-conditioner that provided rather consistent windrows.

“The second field, (planted three years before), had the most tonnage. It was the one we were using an older wheel rake on, and it wasn't really getting the grass up off the ground and getting a consistent windrow.

“It's all how you set your windrow width behind your mower-conditioner,” says Dell, based in Knoxville, TN. The grass, which grows in bunches, tends to accumulate in clumps after cutting if the windrows aren't formed correctly.

He doesn't think wheel rakes will be effective because the crop is so dense. “I could see that rotary rakes and side-delivery rakes would work.”

The shear denseness of the crop slows harvest, Dell says. “We could run 5 mph in the 2- to 3-ton stuff. When we got into the 3- to 4-ton switchgrass, we had to bump down a mile an hour because it's just so thick. It's the thickest crop I've ever baled. But I had a blast.”