When a commercial grower loads a truck with hay for his best dairy client, he wants to set lower-quality bales aside and send only his best hay.

Identifying undesirable bales will be simplified with a new big square baler attachment being introduced this fall. Jeff Roberts, president of Harvest Tec, Hudson, WI, says his company's Individual Bale Identification System will help growers keep shipments and stacks consistent, plus it has several other uses, such as tracking the amount of hay on hand from each field and cutting.

“There's interest in it for inventory control, but mostly for quality control,” says Roberts.

The invention, which will be marketed under different brands as add-ons to New Holland, Agco and Case IH balers, uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to gather pertinent information about every bale and store it in a microchip on the bale. The microchip and its antenna are encased in a tag that's wrapped around the twine as the bale is tied. Then a Precision Information Processor sends the information to the microchip as the bale leaves the chamber.

Stored information includes the bale number, the field number or name, the date and time it was baled, the high and average moisture content, the amount of preservative applied, if any, and the bale weight. The amount of preservative is measured by a flow meter on the applicator, and moisture readings come from a moisture tester that's part of the bale identification apparatus.

“That's probably the most valuable feature of the whole thing, because if they're loading a truck or putting hay into a building or even an outside stack, if they've got a bale that looks like it has some high moisture in it, they can set it aside,” says Roberts.

Tags are read by a hand-held scanner, or reader, that shows the information on a screen when held within 5' of a tag. Or, the scanner will dock on a loader with the screen visible to the operator. The loader-mounted scanner has additional antennae and reads tags on up to three bales at a time at a distance of up to 10'.

“I think that will be the main way it's used,” says Roberts. “I anticipate that everybody who buys a system will buy that loader reader.”

The scanner creates lists of bales made in each field, and a removable USB memory device can be used to download the lists to a computer. When baling, the operator enters field information and starts bale lists using a cab-mounted control console. Similar lists can be made for bales going onto trucks.

Roberts got the idea several years ago when Hay & Forage Grower reported on a bale identification system being developed in Australia.

“We bounced the idea off some growers and they thought it would be a pretty good tool to have,” says Roberts, whose company also makes hay preservative applicators.

The development work was headed by Ryan Johnson, Harvest Tec's product development engineer. It began with the most challenging part: the device that attaches tags to bales.

“It's taken close to three years to get that tag on the twine,” says Roberts.

Next, Harvest Tec contracted with an electronics company with experience in RFID devices for other applications.

“We learned there's a lot of RFID activity going on now,” he says. “There's definitely an increase in the technology and it's accompanied by a decrease in the price of RFID devices.”

Roberts expects that the primary market will be in the West, where large volumes of hay are stored in sheds or stacks for several months.

“Where you have a lot of hay and you're having trouble keeping track of it, I think it will have a lot of value.”

He says buyers of tagged bales will benefit from owning or borrowing scanners, too, to verify the consistency of delivered hay.

He estimates that the baler-mounted apparatus will cost $2,500-3,000. The hand-held scanner will sell for about $800, and the loader-mounted version will be around $200 more. Rolls of tags will cost about 60¢/tag.

Early next year, he expects to add the capability of tying the system to a GPS receiver so field locations can be put on tags. That information can be used to generate yield maps, he says. Further enhancements are planned, and bale identification systems for small square and round balers will be introduced within a few years.

For more information, visit www.harvesttec.com or contact one of the baler companies.