Self-propelled big square balers will soon be on the market for the first time, thanks in large part to Gary Kelderman of Kelderman Manufacturing, Oskaloosa, IA.

He built a self-propelled 3 x 4 x 8’ baler and used it for several years before reaching an agreement to mass-produce the invention with Allied Systems as part of its Freeman baler line.

“It’s a real good biomass baler and a really good machine for large alfalfa operations,” he says.

Kelderman’s prototype – part Freeman baler and part John Deere combine – was covered by Hay & Forage Grower in 2006 (visit bit.ly/JokdYA). It’s faster and more operator-friendly than pull-type models, making 50-60 bales/hour under good conditions, he says.

More recently, he built what’s called the world’s largest self-loading bale truck, the BPT, and a self-loading, power-floor semi trailer, and is manufacturing them in Oskaloosa. Both are in demand for harvesting biomass for cellulosic ethanol plants, he says.

A unique small-bale accumulator that we wrote about the following year also is doing well in the marketplace, but two other inventions covered in recent years – a portable hay processor and an Italian hay dryer – have been less successful so far. Their marketers believe in their value, though, and are confident the machines will gain acceptance when market conditions change.

Kelderman’s prototype big square baler has a 320-hp engine, four-speed transmission and hydrostatic drive. He used a Freeman baler because it’s all hydraulic-driven, with a hydraulic plunger instead of a crankshaft mechanism, which reduces maintenance and extends its useful life.

Production models, which he expects will be available later this year, will be four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steer, computer-controlled and “data-collection-friendly,” he says. A draper-type cutter head or rake can be attached to the front, permitting two biomass harvesting operations at once. A three-bale accumulator is at the rear.

His BPT (bale-picking truck) can collect baled biomass such as corn stover and switchgrass much faster than other equipment on the market – almost three semi loads per hour. It picks up two big square bales at a time and moves them to the rear in packages of six until 42 bales – a full semi load – have been collected. It unloads quickly, one package at a time, then the bales can be reloaded onto the live-floor semi trailer in 3-5 minutes, he says.

Kenny Kuhns designed and built his first bale accumulator because he needed a faster way to handle the 40,000 small square bales that he put up per year.

“There was nothing on the market that did exactly what I wanted it to do,” Kuhns told Hay & Forage Grower in 2007 (visit bit.ly/ILbduJ).

Today he runs Kuhns Mfg LLC, North Bloomfield, OH, almost full time, with a farm manager in charge of his haying operation. He keeps a dozen employees busy building eight models of the machine, and has sold hundreds of them to hay growers throughout the U.S. and in six other countries. Kuhns has 98 dealers, mostly in the eastern U.S. but as far west as Texas and north into Canada.

The invention operates on baler compression and gravity; no hydraulics or electronics are required. The baler’s plunger pushes bales to the top, then gravity moves them down into rows. The last bale in each row swings a door open to start the next row, and the last bale in the group opens a back gate.

It works well on bales weighing 40-80 lbs. Some models have twisted chutes that turn bales on edge. New this year is a belted chute for facilitating sharp turns.

Kuhns recently introduced a second invention, the Tie-Grabber, which squeezes accumulated bale groups before binding them with twine. Bound bales allow for steadier loads on wagons, reduced load tie-down times and more stacking options in the barn, he says.

“We have five different sizes, but we can make them for about any sized group.”

Call him at 877-296-5851 or visit kuhnsmfg.com.

For the first time in Stan Steffen’s life, big square bales are worth more per ton than small ones, and he believes that’s why his Mobile Hay Bale Repackaging Machine hasn’t done as well as expected.

“Putting $40/ton into converting big bales to little ones doesn’t make sense when there are plenty of little ones around they can get cheaper,” says Steffen, of Steffen Hay, Inc., Silverton, OR.

He and his son Dave, owner of Steffen Systems, Inc., built the machine two years ago (visit bit.ly/JGRoGg). It turns 3 x 3’ or 3 x 4’ bales into small, compact bales weighing 60 or 90 lbs each. Then it packages them in stretch-wrapped blocks, up to 18 bales per block.

The slicing, compressing and packaging equipment fits on a 53’-long trailer and is run by a 300-gpm hydraulic system powered by the semi tractor’s 475-hp engine. Steffen says it’ll process 15 tons of alfalfa or 10 tons of grass hay per hour.

He plans to custom-process hay in major growing areas of Oregon and surrounding states, enabling producers with big bales to sell a portion of their production as small bales to horse, llama or alpaca customers. They’ll be able to ship compact bales of premium-quality hay anywhere in the U.S., he says. Another advantage: Bad bales can be identified and removed during processing, leaving 100% high-quality forage to sell.

“Repackaging pays for that reason, even if you don’t need the freight advantage,” says Steffen.

So far, though, he’s only processed hay on two eastern Oregon farms.

“A lot of people come by and look and talk about it, but no one seems to need the product from it right now,” he says. “But that will change. There are always going to be people who would much prefer to put up big bales. Little bales will get scarce again, and we’ll be back in business.”

Contact Steffen at 503-873-0900 or stan@steffenhay.com.

Plenty of potential buyers are interested in the Clim.Air.50 hay dryer, too, says Ryan Eftink of Double D Supply Co., Sikeston, MO. But he’s only sold three units since the Italian invention was introduced in the U.S. and in Hay & Forage Grower in 2004 (visit bit.ly/JaJqBr).

“It’s not where we’d like to be, that’s for sure,” says Eftink.

The main problem, he believes, is that “the concept is so revolutionary compared to what was done before.” He says about 18 Clim.Air.50s are sold in Italy every year.

The machine has two drying floors and can dry up to 18 big square or 16 round bales at a time. A second drying module can be added to double those numbers. A burner fueled by propane or natural gas heats air to 100°F, then a fan blows it through the bottom floor to three flexible tubes at the opposite end. Those tubes carry the air to the second floor. All bales are dried from the top and bottom at the same time.

Hay can be dried from 35-40% moisture to 12% in seven to eight hours, Eftink says.

Now made in the U.S., the dryer is expensive. “You’re looking at a cost of $250,000-295,000 for some of these machines.”

High-quality hay is worth more now than in 2004, one reason he’s seeing a spike in interest. Several growers are considering buying dryers to use this summer, he says.

“They’re seeing the value. They’re seeing what they can get out of it – higher protein and less chance of weather wrecking the hay as well.”

For more information, call Eftink at 573-471-5513 or visit alfalfahaydryer.com.

A similar Italian dryer is offered by Veda Farming Solutions, Salinas, CA. Call Davide Verardi at 831-783-1123.

For more photos, visit Tracking Forage-Equipment Trailblazers Photo Gallery.