A new machine promises to help Western alfalfa growers bale more hay per day and at more consistent moisture levels.

Harvest Tec, Hudson, WI, is introducing a sprayer that simulates natural dew. It has tines that enter the windrow, spraying a fine mist from the bottom of the windrow up. The tines are on a cam so they enter and leave the hay without disturbing it.

Growers no longer will have to wait for natural dew to start baling, says Jeff Roberts, Harvest Tec president. While other artificial dew machines have been built, most spray just the top of windrows. And Roberts thinks this one may be the only one sold commercially.

Operating at 2,500 psi, the sprayer applies 10-18 gallons of water plus a pint of chemical softening agent per acre. For maximum softening effect, at least 10 minutes are needed between application and baling, so a separate field pass is required.

“You have a cost involved with operating another piece of equipment, and there's a treatment cost,” says Roberts. “As a tradeoff, you have to look at two things. One, if you can put up more acres per day, you have a major productivity gain. Two, you get an improvement in consistency of the hay because you have much more control of the moisture content.”

The dew simulator can be used at any time of day. But it works best to spray from early evening until natural dew comes on, and in the morning, when dew is evaporating. During midday, when the evaporation rate is high, it's more difficult to synchronize the spraying and baling.

“You need at least 10 minutes to allow the chemical to do its work, but you don't want to lag too far behind,” says Roberts.

In most situations, he adds, one dew simulator accommodates two big rectangular balers.

Five experimental simulators were used on farms last summer. One was leased by Triple C Farms, Holden, UT, where 3,000 acres of dairy-quality hay were packaged in big bales.

“I was impressed,” reports Collin Bowler, farm manager. “If we didn't get any natural dew, we could bale all day and all night if we wanted.”

Usually, though, artificial dew was applied in the evening.

“We'd start baling before the sun went down and just keep baling after the regular dew came in,” says Bowler.

He hopes to buy three simulators for the 2003 growing season. The machines will be priced in the $20,000-25,000 range, and the softening agent costs another $4/acre at the recommended rate. But Bowler experimented with a lower rate, and was satisfied with results.

The dew simulator and softening agent will be available from New Holland dealers in 12 Western states. For more information, call Roberts at 800-635-7468.