Two machines that simulate dew are now being marketed to Western custom harvesters and hay growers.
“We believe this will change the industry of baling,” says Dave Staheli of Staheli West, Inc., the Cedar City, UT, company that manufactures the DewPoint 6110 steam dew simulator. The machine attaches between a tractor and baler as part of a one-pass process injecting steam into hay as the windrow is lifted into the baler pickup and passes through the baler.
“It is a technology that I hope catches on, because baling dry hay costs farmers a lot of money,” adds Jeff Roberts of Harvest Tec, Hudson, WI, whose Dew Simulator applies mist in a separate pass ahead of the baler.
The problem, says Glenn Shewmaker, University of Idaho Extension forage specialist, is that growers target 13% moisture to bale their 1-ton bales. “The leaves are so dry that they aren’t retained on the stems. They don’t necessarily fall to the ground, but they’re detached from the stems.
“So a lot of Idaho producers go out as it gets dark, because it’s mostly soil moisture that, as it cools, starts toughening up the alfalfa. There are probably two, maybe three hours of prime baling time as the sun goes down.” Right before sunup, the dew point rises quickly – many times too quickly – and the crop is too wet to bale.
“You only have four or five hours at most for baling without some kind of device,” Shewmaker says. Dew simulators, he adds, make a lot of sense for large-acreage producers or custom operators who can justify the expense.
A baler equipped with the DewPoint machine will do the work of three to four standard balers and save on labor and capital costs, Staheli claims. “This gives you the ability to bale hay with consistent optimum bale moisture levels for 12 to 24 hours a day as long as your hay is not too wet. There have been a number of times the last couple of years when we and other operators have baled ahead of rainstorms and put up 500-600 acres of hay with one machine in 24 hours. Our routine target is 200-250 acres a day per machine in a six- to eight-hour baling window.”
The DewPoint 6110’s boiler produces steam that is injected and absorbed into hay using four distribution manifolds, he says.
“The first manifold is over the windrow in the baler’s wind guard. The second manifold, underneath the windrow right between the pickup stripper guards, puts steam right in the bottom of the windrow as it’s being lifted off the ground, so it preserves the leaves. The third is mounted over the packer area and shoots steam down into the windrow as it passes into the packer. The fourth manifold fits right behind the pickup under the packer and comes up through the floor of the baler’s feed chamber.
“This way you can put steam on the top or the bottom independently, so you can treat a windrow according to the ambient conditions you have.” The machine is most economical and efficient in temperatures below 95-100°, Staheli says.
The unit costs $162,000 and averages 5 gallons of water and half a gallon of fuel per ton of hay, depending on ambient conditions. He says the process speeds baling, with about 20-25% more throughput per hour than baling without steam, because the hay is compressed easily. Generally, a 1,350- to 1,400-lb 3 x 4’ bale or a 1,900- to 2,000-lb 4 x 4’ bale is produced at about 30 flakes per bale. Forty units will be in fields across the West this year, he estimates.
The Harvest Tec Dew Simulator, at $40,000, requires another tractor, another operator and a supply of water, as it’s a separate pass made 15-30 minutes ahead of the baler, says Roberts.
“I position mine as a backup machine where the customer has a set of conditions – a dry period or has a problem getting natural dew – that he can supplement. The people who have them typically use them somewhere between 10% and 30% of the harvest,” he says.
About 60 of the Harvest Tec units have been sold in North America and five in Australia since they were made available in 2003.
The typical user will start up the Dew Simulator a few hours before dew sets in, then shut it down and keep baling with the natural dew, Roberts says.
A reel with 60 tines sprays a fine mist into the windrow at high pressure to simulate natural dew. The tines spray only while inside the windrow, evenly distributing water through all of the alfalfa. Four gallons of water will increase the moisture of 1 ton of hay by one point. Hay at 10% moisture needs 20 gallons of water per ton to get up to a 15% moisture level to help retain leaves and increase bale weight and quality, he points out.
Roberts had bales from his simulator compared to untreated bales. Treated bales averaged 12.9% moisture and 1,830 lbs; untreated bales averaged 8.3% moisture and 1,630 lbs.