Besides cutting out two field trips, a new combine-baler combination keeps wheat straw off the ground, preventing ash contamination.

“That’s a big deal for livestock feed and a bigger deal for energy producers,” says Jeff Roskam, CEO of the Kansas Alliance for Biorefining and Bioenergy (KABB), a non-profit bio-energy solutions company. 

Earlier this summer, the first two commercial units of the Agco composite machine were bought by Feedstox, a KABB subsidiary. Feedstox’s main goal is to reduce the cost of harvesting biomass for cellulosic ethanol plants. But Roskam figures that some of the direct-baled residue will be utilized by livestock producers.

“The bales are solid, but with wheat straw there’s a fair amount of fine material in them, so they may be very conducive to cattle feed,” he says.

Agco teamed its Challenger 560C (425-hp) axial rotary combine with an LB34B 3 x 4’ baler. The baler is towed behind the combine with its tongue attached to the combine’s rear axle. Straw leaving the combine goes directly into the baler, which is powered by a combine-driven hydraulic pump.

The new machines are comparable to the Glenvar Bale Direct System developed in Australia several years ago. The main difference is that the Glenvar system has a conveyor that carries straw into the baler, says Dean Morrell, Agco’s hay and forage product marketing manager. On the new units, the combine’s straw chopper pushes it into a baler receiving chamber.

Agco developed the double-duty machines while working with Poet-DSM on methods of collecting biomass for its Emmetsburg, IA, cellulosic ethanol plant, says Morrell. That company initially planned to make ethanol from corncobs but now is gathering all the corn residue that comes through combines.

In Kansas, the two Feedstox combine-balers were used to harvest more than 2,000 acres of wheat and nearly 5,500 bales of straw. They’ll also be evaluated for harvesting corn grain and stover this fall.

On wheat, the combines cut a short stubble, eliminating the need for swathing. Equipped with GPS steering guidance, they have multiple cameras for viewing the baling operation from their cabs.

“They’re very automated,” says Roskam. “Russ Gottlob, our operations manager, tells me that, once you get familiar with the combine and baler controls, there really isn’t much to worry about. Advanced monitors, guidance and cameras make the operation very manageable.”

His main concern is that the straw or stover may sometimes be too wet to bale when the grain is harvested.

“It’s drier in this part of the country, so I think it’s going to work pretty well,” he says. “We hope to see how it performs in northern climates this fall.”

The combine portion of the two-in-one harvesters can be used without the baler, but operating the baler alone would require some changes.

“The baler is set up so we could change the tongue and put the pto on it and operate it separately, if needed.” says Morrell.