A machine that adds moisture to hay at baling “truly changed the whole game in our hay operation,” says Ryan Schwebach, a McIntosh, NM, alfalfa grower who used the DewPoint 6110 this past growing season.

Schwebach, who harvests 1,300 acres of alfalfa with his dad, Jim, used to live his life at Mother Nature’s mercy. He’d sit in fields for hours at a time, waiting for the right amount of dew and wind needed to bale quality hay in his area.

But “catching the dew” – especially a perfect dew like the one allowing his dad and uncle to put up 800 bales from 1 a.m. to sunup years ago – happens only 15% of the time, he estimates.

“Now it happens every day. Now I send one guy out and all he does is sit on that baler. The hay gets baled, the hay gets hauled. And I can get my pivots started. It’s freed up my management tremendously,” Schwebach says.

He replaced four Hesston 4910 large square balers with a new Massey Ferguson 2190 baler and the DewPoint, which sits between the baler and tractor as part of a one-pass operation. It injects steam into hay as the windrow is lifted into the baler pickup and passes through the baler. The machine, developed by grower Dave Staheli, is manufactured by Staheli West Inc., Cedar City, UT.

“The biggest savings is you stay on your schedule. You don’t lose a day because of no dew,” Schwebach says.

Baling and hauling hay off fields faster shaved two days off each cutting’s irrigation schedule. His crop utilized more heat units and, on half his acreage, produced a fifth cutting. “That’s unheard of in our neck of the woods,” he says.

The new machines also harvested more leaf matter, with bales that are 150 lbs heavier than those produced with his old system. The 2190-DewPoint combination also packages 9,000 4 x 4’ bales per year rather than the average 2,250 bales he got off each of his four balers. Running only one baler saved on labor costs – and on parts because the equipment is new.

Even so, his cost per bale increased by $3.82 after buying the $162,000 DewPoint, the new baler and a reverse osmosis system to demineralize water going into the steamer.

Schwebach, who also custom harvests, increased his custom rate by $3/bale. But his major client didn’t have an issue with it.

“We ran the numbers and we were freighting a particular hay about 160 miles. So, at 150 lbs/bale more, that’s worth $1.50/bale,” he says. He also passed along some of his diesel costs. He used a third of a gallon per bale totaling about $1.70.

The savings on labor and parts, plus a yield increase, will help pay off the DewPoint in 12 months, he figures.

There was a learning curve to get the most from the machine, he warns, but part of it is having the right mindset. Don’t look at it as injecting steam into hay but as “creating a dew environment for that hay. You can change the rate of steam, the water levels. You can tweak it when you’re injecting on the windrow top and bottom.

“For example, a lot of times in our middle cuttings, when it’s a lot wetter … we would rake it wetter. Ordinarily the top of the windrow would be too dry and the bottom would be too wet. When the bottom was dry enough, you’d butcher it and make ugly hay. Now you can go in there in the afternoon and shut off your steam on the bottom, add steam to the top and make excellent hay.”

When a perfect dew appears, he shuts off the steamer and bales naturally.

From the front of the tractor to the accumulator, the combination of machines is 78’ long. It looks to be an intimidating ride but maneuvers quite easily, he adds. Schwebach prefers to bale in the evening hours when the weather’s less intense and he can save on water and fuel use. But if he has to bale during the day, he doesn’t stack bales until the heat from the steam dissipates.

“A question I get a lot: ‘Do you produce wet hay with the addition of steam?’ The steam is not a cause of wet hay. If hay is dried down to begin with, the steam doesn’t make wet hay. We burn 1,000 gallons of water on 120 acres and that is hardly nothing. You have to really mess up and work hard to make wet hay.”

For details, visit staheliwest.com.