This year's higher fuel prices have Orin Swart appreciating his homemade windrow merger more than ever.

Swart, a Badger, MN, custom chopper, says the machine is a time saver, too. Since he can chop double windrows as fast as single ones, the merger doubles his daily chopping capacity.

He used it on roughly 3,500 acres of alfalfa last year. Swart chops the forage and delivers it to silos. His clients - mostly dairy producers - do the cutting. Most use 14' or 16' mower-conditioners, leaving windrows that don't measure up to the capacity of Swart's self-propelled chopper. Combining two windrows lets him work more efficiently.

He built the machine three years ago with help from Jim Dostal, a local farmer and machinist. The pickup from a round baler lifts the crop and drops it onto a canvas apron. That delivers it to a second apron, which drops it onto the adjacent windrow. The second apron, positioned below the first one, can be adjusted to fit any windrow spacing.

Swart says the merger handles the crop more gently than a rake, and he doesn't have to worry about moving rocks into the windrows.

It's powered by its own hydraulic system, so any tractor can be used to pull it. "And anybody can run it - just straddle the swath and go," says Swart. "We go 8-9 mph - to stay ahead of the chopper."

The merger cost him about $5,000 to build, but he recently replaced the 4'-wide pickup with a 6' model, which cost him another $3,500.

For additional information, call Swart at 218-528-4941.