After Mark Johnson demonstrated his Flex Rake at last fall’s Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, GA, “there were so many people around the rake that I had to stand on the machine and give a seminar,” he says.

His ground-driven wheel rake grabbed attention because it runs between the tractor and baler, with the pto shaft that drives the baler enclosed in its frame. Combining the two haying operations eliminates a tractor and operator, saving time, money and labor, Johnson says.

The Flex Rake also rakes cleaner than other models, he claims, thanks in part to a feature that gives it its name. Pinned joints where the hydraulically operated wings attach to the frame allow them to maintain more consistent ground contact.

“We have rolling fields with terraces all over, and the rake never comes off the ground. It can flex at any angle,” says Johnson, who grows about 600 acres of grass and clover hay near Goshen, AL.

Deflector wings in front of the rake wheels prevent hay from wrapping around them. A spring tension system that lets the operator adjust the wheels to rake lightly or more aggressively to fit crop conditions, and a short, 7’ turning radius, are additional advantages, Johnson adds.

The rake wheels are closer together and at a different angle than on most rakes, so it handles the hay more gently, he says. He used it on very dry clover hay last summer, and believes it would work well on alfalfa, too.

“It doesn’t throw the hay; it just gently rolls it. I don’t know much about alfalfa, but it retains the leaves on clover.”

The rake is compatible with any in-line round or square baler and can be adjusted to make 4’- or 5’-wide windrows.

He used to rake an hour or two before baling, but that was problematic on windy days.

“In the spring, the wind would blow the hay completely out of the field.”

To prevent those losses, his wife, Faye, would rake and he would follow close behind with the baler. That’s how Johnson got the idea to rake and bale at the same time. He designed the Flex Rake in fall 2010, then built it from scratch last winter.

He tested it on his 2011 hay, making a few minor changes as the season progressed. Then he formed Flex Rake, a limited liability company that includes himself and six local investors, and introduced the rake at Moultrie in October.

Now he’s building rakes full time with help from one employee, and plans to turn his haying operation over to a son-in-law.

“I hope to be managing a crew before long, but right now we’re staying small; we’re building to order,” he says.

Three versions are available. A deluxe version with 10 wheels costs $19,500. Its tongue folds up when the wings are moved into operating position, shortening it by 6’. A rigid-tongue Flex Rake with 10 wheels costs $15,500, and a third version, designed for use without a baler, is priced at $12,000. In each case, the price goes up or down by $1,500 as a wheel is added to or subtracted from each wing.

“They’re designed for from eight to 20 wheels,” says Johnson.

For more information, call 334-937-0024 or visit flexrake.net.