Baling 20,000 round bales of cornstalks in a three-week harvest window used to be a challenge for custom harvester Eric Woodford — especially in uncertain Minnesota weather.

“When it was an overcast day we knew we were going to spend a lot of time out of the cabs, unplugging the balers,” says Woodford of Woodford Custom Inc., Redwood Falls. Not only did that cost time and energy, it was unsafe.

“I would see my employees climbing under the balers and pulling that stuff out by hand. I knew it was just a matter of time before one of them got hurt.” So he did something about it.

Woodford invented the powered windguard — the main component of the Cornstalk Special package offered as an option on Vermeer Super M Series balers. He says the Cornstalk Special increases productivity by 50%, using less fuel and manpower, translating to fewer hours on the tractor. The baler “shines” in harvesting cornstalks, but can be used for most hay crops — including biomass crops, he adds.

Currently, cornstalks are baled with hay balers that usually pick up only about half the stover in a windrow, Woodford says. “The other half will tumble or waterfall in front of the pickup and that waterfall effect reduces the available capacity of that baler.”

With the cornstalk baler, pickup teeth lift corn stover to the hydraulically powered windguard, positioned just above and in front of the pickup. The windguard helps propel stover into the bale chamber so cornstalks don't tumble back onto the field — or plug up the baler, he says.

“We're teaching cornstalks how to behave and flow like hay,” adds Woodford, who custom harvests stover for feedlot rations and bedding.

To get maximum baler productivity, however, he says cornstalks should be chopped with as little leaf shattering as possible and at larger particle sizes.

Woodford's customers usually do that work, but he offers them tips: “I say drive one or two gears faster than you would for tillage and slow the motor down to where your pto rpms are as low as you can run them without overheating the tractor.”

He uses 16-wheel rakes. “The larger the rake you can afford with cornstalks, the better. Say your farmer wants you to leave 40-50% residue. You can lift up the ground pressure and just lightly glance along the top of the soil to leave more residue, but you'll still have a windrow that's adequate to feed the baler.”

Woodford says the baler has speeded up harvest. “We're probably baling at twice the tons per hour with the powered windguard,” he says. “It's like a turbocharger for a round baler.”

The windguard also combs through the crop mat as it's fed into the baler. “That will create more even compaction as the bale is rolling in the chamber. If the windrow is lopsided or heavier on one side or the other, the powered windguard will help to even that out.”

A benefit of consistent bales, he says, is that they're easier to transport and store, with fewer bulges or depressions for rain or snow to settle into.

The cornstalk baler reduces operator stress, too, he says. “If you don't have a powered windguard, you spend a tremendous amount of time looking to the rear, babysitting the pickup, making sure that it's not plugging.”

The powered windguard allows drivers to look forward more often, concentrating on driving safely and reading monitors. “And there's no reason that this baler should ever plug, so you should be able to stay in the cab, stay clean and have a better work attitude,” Woodford points out.

At the same time, he made sure the windguard could be reversed to remove plugs without leaving the cab. “I know somebody out there will figure out how to plug it up.” However, in three years of testing his own prototypes and Vermeer's, the machines have yet to plug, he says.

The Cornstalk Special package also includes worklights, a powered bale ramp and a scale integrated into the bale monitor. “If a bale is light or heavy, we can make adjustments. That helps me offer customers a consistent product and lets customers know how many tons are harvested.”

Woodford holds the patent on the powered windguard; Vermeer has been licensed exclusive rights to manufacture it. For details, visit www.vermeerag.com/equip/mbalers/605mbalers/.