The three major manufacturers of self-propelled forage harvesters work to meet the needs of their customers. More-efficient machines, sometimes with higher horsepower and definitely with more creature comforts, appear each year.

This year is no exception.

And another manufacturer has joined the fray. Krone has made its 605- and 780-hp Big X harvesters available in the U.S.

Why should custom operators consider buying more-powerful machines when packing tractors can't keep up with current choppers?

“Customers said the No. 1 priority is the quality of the chop and the crop flow through the machine,” explains Jody McRee, Krone marketing manager.

“The presentation of the crop through six precompression rollers to the cylinder offers a consistent cut — and less horsepower and fuel. I said less horsepower, but when you start harvesting 12 rows of corn, you're going to have to have more horsepower.”

The Big X's chopping cylinder is 31.2" wide and 25.7" in diameter, adding volume. Length of cut ranges from 4 mm to 22 mm.

“We always have one knife behind the shearbar,” McRee adds. “That makes a big difference when you start getting into wear and catastrophic failures, like rocks that bend and wear shearbars out because the knife is bent. It always gives you a proper cut because the knife is behind and doesn't get damaged.”

A specially designed corn head comes in 8-, 10- or 12-row models. “The fingers feed the crop across fixed knives, it's very low weight and it picks downed crop off the ground very easily.” The corn head also feeds in odd rows with no trouble.

The machine's kernel processor is 9¾" in diameter, he adds.

“We know that the large horsepower market is limited right now, but the demand is growing for larger machines,” McRee says.

While Krone has been converting its German harvester to U.S. needs, manufacturers holding the lion's share of the self-propelled market have been perfecting their products.

“The biggest thing we're doing with our machines is putting heavier parts in them so they can run all season,” says New Holland's hay and forage product specialist Phil Wright. “We're trying to stop downtime, making blower liners that go for a whole season, and shearbars and knives heavy enough so they last.” New Holland's FX Series harvesters range from 386 to 571 hp.

John Deere's 7000 Series harvesters have an improved metal detector, called the Intelliguard. “This has more detecting capabilities,” says Tim Meister, the company's marketing manager for forage products. “It's more sensitive and more programmable and has a learning mode.”

A dent in a roll, for example, frequently will magnetize and set off older-model metal detectors. That, in turn, will cause machines to shut down frequently. The new metal detector acknowledges the dent but can be programmed to allow for it, reducing downtime.

In light of high fuel costs and future technical improvement, the newest Deere models come with locks on fuel tanks and engine and battery compartments. The 7400 engine's horsepower was increased by 10 hp, to 510, and the entire series features heavy-duty rear axles with 30% increases in torque over standard versions.

Claas of America announces a 17' Model DD 520 direct disc head, says Bob Armstrong, Claas product marketing manager. “They use direct-cut heads a lot in California to harvest their winter forage,” he adds.

Jaguar Speedstar choppers, ranging from 321 to 605 hp, have a transport speed of 24 mph and an inoculant tank and pump.

“A lot of times customers would add their own inoculant tanks and pumps to the machine. We have incorporated them into the machine, where they can carry up to 108 gallons, so they don't have to fill up as many times.”

Air compressors have been added to all harvester models, Armstrong says. “Harvesters can clean their machines and even power pneumatic tools with them.”

Forage Harvesters Aren't Camera Shy

If you buy a self-propelled forage harvester, you can also buy a camera system to save your body wear and tear.

Optional camera equipment can be wired from cabs to chopper spouts, allowing operators to view monitors when loading trucks.

“Harvesters are always trying to look over their shoulders to see whether trucks are full, or if they need to move the spouts to continue filling,” says John Deere's Tim Meister.

“The customer is saying, ‘A swivel seat will work for me.’ But most forage harvester cabs come from combines, and they don't need swivel seats. So we're saying, ‘Here's a better solution,’” he adds.

The camera system isn't the newest feature in choppers, but it's coming into its own, says Phil Wright of New Holland.

“The people who grew up on video games want this stuff. If they're 60 years old, they don't want it,” Wright says. He is currently testing wireless cameras to offer with his company's harvesters. “The advantage, with a wireless system, is that you can put monitors in both harvesters and trucks and it gives truck drivers the ability to control the filling.”

The wireless camera can be found at www.agcam.com.

“When we talked about cameras in focus meetings years ago,” says Claas of America's Bob Armstrong, “growers were concerned whether they could keep cameras clean. They're finding they do and that the benefits exceed expectations.” Some are talking about adding a wide-angle camera and split-screen monitor so they can see two views.

Although Krone offers a camera kit, Jody McRee, marketing manager, says Big X operators can do without it. The cab is predominately glass and easy to view from, he says.