Six years ago, Scott Seaver got tired of jumping off his tractor to adjust the tension on his small square baler every time field conditions changed. “There has to be a better way” to make uniform bales, he told himself.
So Seaver, armed with an engineering degree, built what may be the first on-the-go density control system for small square balers. The Airbaler system automatically adjusts bale tension as the amount and type of crop change. Compatible with top manufacturers' small square balers, the kit can be installed in 2½ hours.
He's used the system to bale 60,000 small squares the past few years; he primarily raises alfalfa-grass mixes on 170 acres near Montague, MI. But last year he started selling the Airbaler, and growers from Oregon to the East Coast and into Canada are buying it.
“All the feedback has been positive,” he says. Customers have fewer loose bales to contend with. One says his new hay stacker works better now that bales are uniform in length and weight. Seaver also thinks the system extends a baler's life.
After finishing his first cutting in 2002, it struck Seaver that air, rather than springs or hydraulics, would be better at keeping baler tension constant.
“You have to have something that doesn't care what position it is in to hold the same force. Air is compressible, so you can change positions.”
Small square balers have two parallel tensioning rails above and below the bale chamber to apply uniform tension. The plunger pushes the hay through the force applied by the rails. But when the baler hits light spots in fields, rails sink right into “soft” bales, Seaver says.
“Then you lose all your force on your springs because they're shorter and not applying nearly enough tension.
“It compounds,” he adds, “and causes the hay to slide through a little easier, which causes the rails to squeeze a little less. You'll get bales that are so loose you can't even pick them up.”
The system uses an airbag similar to those found in semi-tractor air suspension systems. The airbag and a tension bar sit on the baler's upper tensioning rail and connect by rods to its lower tensioning rail. That way the airbag can apply equal tension to both sides of the bale chamber at the same time. It's connected to a ballast tank that allows the bag to expand and contract as needed to maintain a constant pounds-per-square-inch pressure.
Having fewer loose bales is a major advantage of the unit, growers tell Seaver. That makes hauling easier and safer, too. “Sometimes a soft bale would start to collapse while you were driving. The whole load could shift and that could mean a lot of hay to pick up.
“One of our customers felt the bales, because they were all a nice consistent size and shape, were much more marketable and more desirable,” he says.
The unit also makes it easier for the plunger to push the hay - large volumes are no longer forced through chambers with tension set too tight.
“I think it decreases the wear and tear and the amount of horsepower required to run a baler.” It also increases capacity, he adds.
It took Seaver 30 days to put the system together. Over the next few years, he made it more robust and easier to install. Until recently, farming and his day job as a process engineer left him little time to think about manufacturing and marketing his system.
Now he has a manufacturer and a marketing expert on board and has applied for a patent on the system.