At forage conferences and equipment shows across the U.S., manufacturers are showcasing their latest and greatest in forage harvesting implements to meet growers' and custom operators' needs.

Here are a few getting special attention from harvesters:

The FR9000 Series self-propelled forage harvester from New Holland sports five models ranging from 424 to 823 hp.

“It's the biggest machine for sale on the market today,” says Dave Wilbert, the company's self-propelled forage marketing specialist. “It was designed for bigger capacity, has four feed rolls, a 34"-wide cutterhead and 10” crop processor rolls.”

Besides size, it boasts a few new features, he adds.

“It has what we call a VariFlow accelerator.” While the operator removes the crop processor in minutes to chop haylage, the VariFlow system moves the accelerator closer to the cutterhead to improve crop flow and save on horsepower. “There's less chance of plugging,” he says.

A “cruise control” option, called PowerCruise, automatically monitors engine load and cuts ground speed as it deals with heavy windrows. It speeds up as the crop gets lighter, Wilbert says.

Because the machine is larger, it's roomier to service. Its wheel base has been lengthened to keep the maneuverability of previous models.

Along with its proven Hydroloc feedroll drive system, the machine has an optional dual drive that allows the operator to adjust feedroll speed separately from header speed — while in the cab.

The cab offers increased visibility and controls are mounted to air-ride seats so controls move with the operator on rough terrain.

Its new 17' grass header is heavier with a bigger auger and is hydraulically driven so reel speed can match the machine's ground speed. A Metaloc metal detection system is also standard.

Kuhn's FC 703 RA disc mower-conditioner is a rear-mounted unit that cuts 23', says Brad Toellner, product specialist. It can only be mounted on a reverse station tractor.

“A hydraulic accumulator controls the suspension on the machine,” points out Toellner. “It gives a very good range of travel for the suspension and protects the mower on uneven terrain.

“The FC 703 allows the swath to lay out over 80% of the cut width,” while competitive models can do no better than 60%, he says. “Kuhn has always offered machines with a lot of flexibility in swath width.”

Transport width is 8'.

A wide-swath merger, from H&S Manufacturing, will be produced in limited numbers this spring, says Jim Kappel of the company's product support and development department.

The H&S Continuous Head Windrow Merger is 30' wide and features a self-contained hydraulic system. “It has very good maneuver-ability,” Kappel says. “This is our version of what needs to be done on the merging side to accommodate the wide swath.

“It adapts to a lot of different mower-conditioner sizes; we give a customer the option of laying his windrows out wider or narrower.”

A unique feature of the merger: a rotary wind deflector. As the hay is being picked up and converged onto the pick-up belt, the deflector keeps it flowing smoothly, preventing bunched windrows, he says. “A lot of customers tell me they can chop at least a mile and a half and sometimes two miles an hour faster behind our merger.”

The Krone BiG Pack 1290 HDP baler makes 3 × 4' square bales so dense they weigh nearly what a 4 × 4' bale weighs, says Brian Hutt, Krone marketing manager.

“When you're loading 4 × 4 bales on a truck to ship them, you can only go two high. With 3 × 4' bales, you can get an extra layer across the top,” he says.

The 1290 HDP, which stands for “high-density press,” increases bale weight by up to 25%. It has an extended bale chamber, strong direct drive, six double knotters for standard twine and an optional 26-knife cutter system called X-Cut.

Tested this past year, the baler will be available in limited quantities this season, Hutt says.

Claas of America is moving into the tractor market with a versatile, spiffy-looking 330-hp machine. The Xerion 3300 is a multi-purpose tractor with an optional cab that can rotate 180° in less than 30 seconds.

“What the rotating cab does,” says Bob Armstrong, Claas product marketing manager, “is give the operator the ability to move the cab to the best operating position.” For instance, if he had a rear-mounted mower, he could rotate the cab to give him a better view.

“And if he was going to use it in the silage pit, he could rotate the cab back where the blade is a lot closer, so he can see as he's pushing material,” Armstrong says.

The Xerion comes in fixed-, forward- or variable-cab models. It has permanent 4WD, 100% front-and-rear differential lock, a 100% central differential lock and a 20' turning radius. Its Caterpillar six-cylinder engine and continuously variable ZF transmission are structurally integrated and installed on iso-mounts within the frame to prevent vibration and provide optimal power.

Its Cebis control system allows the operator to monitor overall machine performance.

Adam Averbeck, Van Dyne, WI, is one of the first to buy a John Deere self-propelled chopper with a HarvestLab moisture sensor.

He believes the near-infrared (NIR) on-board sensor, which reads the moisture of crop as it's harvested, will help him make higher-quality feed for his customers — and keep his custom crew on schedule.

“It's an advantage for farmers,” says Averbeck, who custom harvests 3,600 acres of haylage and 1,200-1,500 acres of corn silage every year. “We're always trying to look for fields at that right moisture. By the time you're done chopping a few truck loads, they tell you it's too wet and you keep moving from field to field. It gets cumbersome.

“But this is instant. As soon as you get in the field you pretty much know where you're at.”

A HarvestLab sensor, located on the spout of a self-propelled forage harvester, detects the moisture of the crop and sends readings to a GreenStar display, according to the company.

From the chopper cab, the operator can view moisture and yield information, which is continuously updated every second the harvester is at work. That 45 minutes to an hour wait for conventional tests to come back would be a thing of the past, says Tim Meister, John Deere marketing manager for forage products.

“On my end, it will save time,” Averbeck says. “The biggest problem is in corn silage, where trucks are being scaled. Every load will have a really good moisture reading. A lot of time when you take a sample from a truck, it can vary a lot, depending on where you were in the field — especially the last couple of years.

“In our area, fields dried out so bad last September they varied from end to end. If you were taking a hand sample at the bunker, you could be off 5-10 points in moisture just by grabbing in the wrong spot,” he says.

Because this season will be the first he'll use the sensor, Averbeck has been trying to decide how he'll charge growers for the new service.

“It's hard to figure out what it's worth to customers. The value is there for them; it's just trying to find the point where they agree to pay something for it. Once they see what it can do, they're going to be pretty happy with it.”

The sensor can be removed from the chopper and put on a desktop turntable so it can also be used to take silage readings at feed-out. Averbeck says he'll make use of that, too.

“My dad is one of my customers and we're looking at, once we're done with this at the end of the season, using it for feed-out.”