The second-ever issue of Hay & Forage Grower carried a story on a machine that mowed and shredded hay, then pressed it into thin mats that field-dried to 20% moisture in eight hours or less.

By 1986, University of Wisconsin ag engineer Richard Koegel had been working on his one-day haying system for several years, with a few more years of development work to follow. Koegel eventually built three prototype “macerators,” and we reported in 1993 that equipment manufacturers were interested, but no field-size machine was ever commercialized.

As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, it’s intriguing to look at that and other stories from years past. The last 25 years have seen a multitude of improvements in the way forages are produced, harvested and handled, and we’ve covered them all. Midsize square balers, round bale net wrap, bale wrappers, brown midrib crops and NIRS forage testing are a few examples of innovations that were introduced or came into their own since 1986.

But growers are still waiting for technology that, like Koegel’s macerator, would enable them to mow alfalfa or other forage in the morning and bale dry hay later that day. There have been several other valiant attempts, but none succeeded. I remember writing about:

  1. A 50’-long, 10’-wide machine that dried hay using microwaves. The Micro-Hay Dryer picked up windrowed hay and carried it on belts over 210 microwave drying cells. Pulled by a small tractor, it had a 580-hp diesel engine that drove a 300-kilowatt generator. Its Florida inventor said he used the prototype on his own bermudagrass hay, drying it to 18% moisture within a few hours after cutting.
  2. A Minnesota invention that packed hay into compartments around a large cylinder, then blew propane-heated air through it with a 25,000-cu-ft/minute fan. The air was heated and reheated five times, drying progressively wetter hay as it moved from the rear to the front of the machine. The two inventors expected to field-dry hay to 45% moisture, then take it to 18% moisture with the dryer. They had invested 12 years and about $500,000 developing it.
  3. The Once-Over Haymaker, which had electrically heated rollers that squeezed excess water out of hay, then heat caused the remaining moisture to vaporize. The original design by a North Carolina grower had five rollers, but a prototype built and tested by a Clemson University ag engineer had just two. The grower said more rollers were needed. He hoped to eventually cut, dry and bale in one operation, with a baler pulled behind his invention.
  4. A proposed zero-loss harvesting method in which freshly cut forage would be delivered to modified grain bins in self-loading wagons, dried with propane and then conveyed out for baling. University of Kentucky ag engineers developed the system, and a company in that state was ready to market the components if tests proved it could be done economically.

The Kentucky bin-drying plan was a lot like the method currently used by Top Quality Hay Processors (TQHP), Geneva, NY, which dries freshly cut forage in a long natural gas-powered oven. TQHP apparently is having some success, but questions remain about the economic viability of start-to-finish drying with fossil fuel. A method like Koegel’s, which utilized free solar energy, seems more likely to be widely adopted.

His maceration idea wasn’t totally abandoned, of course. Macerators and other machines that offer enhanced conditioning are available today, and they’ve been shown to speed hay drying. But they don’t condition the crop as severely as Koegel’s invention, and they don’t form mats.

A one-day haying system would remove much of the weather risk that has always been part of hay production, and would help make alfalfa and other forage crops more profitable. As University of Wisconsin ag engineer Kevin Shinners points out in a story starting on page 6 of this issue, “If we could develop faster drying systems so that you could truly have a single-day forage harvesting system, then alfalfa would start to compete better with corn silage in a dairy ration.”

Such a system is badly needed. As soon as the next one is developed, you’ll read about it in Hay & Forage Grower.