High-density big square balers can reduce twine and stacking expenses for custom harvesters. But hauling- and storage-cost savings are the main advantages for Chris Horton and Joel Rohde.

They bale grass straw in Oregon's Willamette Valley, the nation's top grass seed production area. They buy and bale straw in the field from seed producers and store it until winter, when they sell most of it to export companies that ship it to Japan and Korea as livestock feed.

Horton and Rohde both bought Krone Big Pack 1290 HDP balers last year. Introduced in 2008, the model increases bale density by up to 25%, putting the weight of a 4 × 4' bale into a 3 × 4' package.

The high-density machine Horton bought in early 2009 was his first big square baler. He had been reluctant to move away from three-tie small bales, fearing his hauling costs would increase. Trucking bales to storage and later delivering them to export companies is a big expense in his operation, and he could get more weight on a load with small bales than with big ones. But that changed with the high-density baler.

“Overall, I'm probably getting a couple tons more per load than I was getting with the three-ties,” says Horton, of Monmouth, OR.

He packs 200-250 lbs more straw into each bale than would be possible with a conventional 3 × 4' baler.

“I wanted to average an 1,100-lb bale, and I'm going to average over 1,100 lbs, no problem,” he says.

He likes the way the dense bales stack, and the fact that there are fewer of them. Overall, he figures the hauling- and storage-cost savings total a few dollars a ton.

Those savings won't be available for a second, used high-density baler Horton bought last fall. His son Lyle will use that one strictly for custom work. Bale density doesn't matter to the main client because he'll be selling bales out of the field, so Lyle probably won't be able to charge more than he could for baling with a conventional machine. But he'll save some money on twine and stacking expenses.

“He can pick up a couple dollars a ton with this baler without charging more,” Horton points out. “If he does 5,000 tons, that's an extra $10,000 at the end of the year.”

The high-density feature adds about $20,000 to the baler's price. Cost savings help offset that, but Horton says the payback will be determined in part by its trade-in value.

“Is it going to be worth $20,000 more? Or, with 40,000 or 50,000 bales on it, is it going to be worth basically nothing because nobody in production is going to want to buy it?” he asks. “That's the big unknown.”

For Rohde, of Rickreall, OR, the transportation and storage savings are enough to justify the added cost. He rents all his storage space, paying $20,000 apiece for what used to be 2,000-ton barns. High-density bales reduce his storage needs by about 20%.

“Basically, in my operation I can eliminate one entire barn payment,” says Rohde.

He used one high-density baler last year and recently bought two more, replacing conventional big square balers. He does his own work plus one custom job, baling and stacking 500-600 acres of alfalfa for a large organic farming operation. The organic operation sells much of its hay to smaller dairies. But high-density bales of alfalfa weigh 1,700-1,800 lbs, and some of the dairies aren't equipped to handle bales that heavy. So Rohde makes the bales lighter.

“As long as the bales weigh between 1,200 and 1,300 lbs, they're happy,” he says.

Horton and Rohde were both well-satisfied with their high-density balers' performance.

“You need to use a 550- or 600-lb (knot strength) twine; otherwise you'll break your twine,” says Horton. “But with that heavy twine last year, I did about 13,000 bales and I think I broke one knot.”

“The speed you can go through the field and the amount of material you can pick up in a day is awesome,” adds Rohde.

Dense Bales Go Direct To Export

High-density balers have dramatically reduced costs for an El Centro, CA-based hay exporting company.

Agritrade, LLC, developed a system for loading dense 3 × 4' bales into shipping containers in the field, 29 bales per container, and transporting them directly to port.

“In an average of three days from the time that bale hits the ground, it's on its way to a foreign market,” says Gene Folger, the company's operations manager.

Bale slicing, double compressing and retying costs are eliminated, and handling costs are reduced. Factoring in the high-density balers' higher cost, Folger figures hay processing expenses are cut in half. A truck hauling a loaded container weighs about 80,000 lbs, the maximum weight permitted on California highways, and ocean shipping costs are about the same as with double-compressed small bales.

The bales are shipped to Japan, South Korea and the Middle East.

Folger says that, on average, alfalfa hay going into dense bales has to be slightly drier than for standard bales.

“We run our moistures from 10 to 14%,” he says. “The big difference is how you prepare the hay. Raking is probably the most important part of that whole process.”

Agritrade, LLC, operates in California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, and has 20 high-density balers.

More High-Density Balers Are Coming

A high-density Hesston 3 × 4' baler is on the horizon from Agco Corporation, reports Dean Morrell, the company's product marketing manager for hay and forage harvesting.

He says the load setting on all big balers has been increased by 15% for 2010. “We're working on a higher-density machine and will have some units in the field this year.”

Claas of America eventually will offer high-density balers, too, but first will work on adjusting its bale sizes, says Bob Armstrong, product marketing manager. Currently, its Quadrant large square balers don't quite fit the 3 × 3', 3 × 4' and 4 × 4' size categories.

“The density thing is being constantly evolved in Europe, so I'm not as concerned about the density; that will come,” says Armstrong. “I'm more concerned about offering the right bale size for our market.”

Case IH is moving forward with ongoing development of a high-density baler offering, says Scott Raber, North American marketing manager for the company's hay and forage division.

“It is something that is definitely in the product plan; stay tuned,” says Raber.

Baler Was Built For Better Efficiency

The 1290 HDP baler was developed to make baling more efficient, says Hartwig Janssen, Krone North America's marketing manager, commercial products.

“North America is the largest large square baler market worldwide, with an average 1,600 units sold per year,” says Janssen. “And a lot of that hay and straw is being transported great distances. The baler was developed to reduce the overall logistic cost, which means transportation, field logistics like stacking and also storage.”

He says the machine is a “completely different baler. The frame, the plunger, everything is heavy-duty.”

The bale chamber is about 2½' longer than on the company's standard 3 × 4' baler.

“We're keeping the bale in the chamber longer,” says Janssen. “We compress it longer and put more pressure on the side of the bale while it's in the chamber.”

The baler “has become extremely popular,” he says. “We're selling out on that model yearly. There's tight availability, but there is availability for 2010.”

Hay going into high-density bales has to be at least as dry as for conventional big square baling, he says.

“Moisture is a concern,” Janssen admits. “You want to be more cautious.”

In addition to baling hay and straw, it's gaining favor for packaging biomass crops, which are bulky and hard to compact into heavy bales. A high-density baler showed several advantages over a conventional one in a 2009 corn stover baling and handling study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory.

The study, done in Kansas, revealed that the conventional 3 × 4' machine was more productive, baling 30 bales per hour at 5.8 miles per hour vs. 18.5 bales per hour at 4.7 mph for the high-density baler. Baling costs were $15.07 and $17.06 per dry ton, respectively, for the conventional and high-density balers.

But packaging stover in high-density bales reduced stacking, storage and transportation costs, as well as the cost of reprocessing bales for biofuel production. The final analysis showed that the high-density baler reduced costs by $2.61 per ton of dry matter.