Two manufacturers of self-propelled forage harvesters have introduced totally different systems that offer the same thing: the opportunity to change length of cut on the go.

Among other improvements, the 2003 models of New Holland's FX Series and John Deere's 7000 Series choppers alter cut length with the touch of a few buttons.

The FX models use hydrostatic drive to shift feed roll speed from low to high. Length of cut varies from 3/16" to 9/16" on the low end to 9/16" to 13/16" on the high side. The feed-roll drive speed-synchronizes the header auger and feed rolls.

John Deere's latest harvesters incorporate its “infinitely variable transmission” technology, using gear drive and hydraulic control to vary feed-roll speed. Its infinitely variable length of cut ranges from ¼" to over 1"

“Length of cut has always been a big issue with the custom chopper business and with dairy farmers,” says Phil Wright, New Holland hay and forage product specialist.

He says operators have been known to get out of cabs to change length of cut on chopper feed rolls. But they don't typically adjust header speed. That causes the two speeds to “fight” with each other, lowering productivity.

“With this new system, you're going to get maximum productivity, because the header and feed rolls are going to stay synchronized,” Wright says. John Deere's harvesters also change header speed in the cab, it's just done independent of length of cut, says Tim Meister, John Deere marketing manager for forage products.

A lot of growers may think they don't need this new technology, Meister adds. “The example we use is the TV remote control. Thirty years ago, having a television without a remote control was perfectly normal. Today it would seem absurd to be without one,” he says.

“I think this new technology has the ability to change the industry of forage chopping,” Meister says. “It will allow growers to manage their forages better, based on moisture and density of the crop after it's packed.”

“In the olden days,” Meister says, “an operator would have stopped chopping when a field was too wet or dry for proper packing and ensiling. “Today he can reach over, hit a button, turn the dial and change the length of cut to improve the packing at the pit.”

Meister anticipates the day when length of cut and moisture levels can be managed together, allowing chopper operators and pit foremen to pack the best crop possible.

Wright says that day has arrived. New Holland has exclusive marketing rights to a new chopper-mounted moisture monitoring system from Harvest Tec, Hudson, WI.

The Model 476 moisture monitor can be mounted on New Holland FX Series, Claas Jaguar or John Deere 6000 or 7000 Series harvesters. Basically, two sensors are placed in different spots in the chopper spout. Digital readings on the cab monitor update every three seconds to continually monitor the moisture content of hay or corn silage as it's chopped.

Harvest Tec's Jeff Roberts says an average moisture reading for a load is accurate within two points of moisture for alfalfa silage, within three points on corn silage.

“The farmers who have run it have given us good feedback; they've gotten good reliability on it and feel it's a pretty important part of the information required for successful harvesting,” Roberts says.

Barry Serier, Baldwin, WI, is the custom harvester who came to Roberts for help in developing a moisture monitor. He holds half the patent rights, too.

“With the Koster tester, it was taking half an hour to 45 minutes to get test results. We would have 50 acres cleaned off by then, with the chance of having 50 acres of wrong-moisture material going in for cattle feed,” says Serier, who also runs an 1,800-cow dairy herd with Dean and Todd Doornink.

“The more accurate we can be with the moisture going to the cattle, and the less variation, the more milk we'll get out of them.”

The moisture monitor model he's refined the past six or seven years gives him 1% plus-or-minus moisture accuracy as measured against a Koster tester. However, Harvest Tec moisture monitors tested on other choppers by other harvesters have shown more variation, Serier says. He's working with Harvest Tec to improve the system sensors.