RACINE, Wis. — “You can’t have a conversation about hay production
and not mention the weather,” says Dr. Kevin Shinners, Professor of Agricultural
Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As with any agricultural
crop, that’s the No. 1 challenge every producer faces. But with hay and haylage,
weather problems can be even more acute, because of the extended field drying
time often required.
There are important steps producers can take to dry hay faster. “One of the
most important steps is to utilize the sun’s energy to the maximum extent
possible,” Shinners adds. “At cutting, lay that crop down as wide as you
possibly can so that almost every square foot is occupied by drying crop.
Anything you can do to get that crop to dry quicker so you can get it out of the
field and miss a rainstorm, that’s money well spent.”
Shinners says a mower conditioner is a good tool to speed dry down.
“Engineers have done decades of studies that show the advantages of mechanically
conditioning the stem and what it does to improve drying rates,” he continues.
“A mower conditioner also gives you flexibility to produce either dry hay or
haylage. It’s a great tool in your arsenal for better quality forage.”
Mechanically Condition Haylage
Shinners admits his recommendation to always mechanically condition haylage
is currently controversial. “Some people suggest that by not conditioning the
crop, they can slow the drying rate down and once it reaches the ideal chopping
moisture content, it’ll stay there for a longer period of time.
“However, without conditioning, the crop will take longer to get to the
optimum moisture content, and you put the crop at risk of weather damage. I’m a
proponent of conditioning at all times,” he explains. “With conditioning, you
shorten the period of time to get to the optimum moisture content, so we can get
that crop off the field, ensiled and protected.”
High Productivity Equipment
According to Shinners, there are three keys to quality hay and haylage: cut
it at the right stage of maturity; dry it as quickly as possible; and be gentle
on the crop. He cautions growers to avoid tedding or raking at times when the
leaves are brittle.
“Progressive dairies are recognizing that the way to maintain forage quality
is to have high productivity harvesting equipment. When the weather is right and
the crop is mature, you can’t plod along like Grandpa did. You need high
productivity equipment to get through those acres as quickly as you can, and get
into the next growing cycle. In Wisconsin, they’re trying to cut haylage on a
28 to 30-day cutting cycle to have more uniform crop quality and higher quality
forage,” Shinners notes.
Brett DeVries, Case IH Hay and Forage Marketing Manager, says it’s a similar
story for commercial hay producers in the Western United States. “There, the
rule of thumb is guys have to be able to get it cut and baled in three to four
days – and they need the equipment to do that. On the irrigated land, they need
to get the crop off as quickly as possible so they can irrigate and stay on
schedule to optimize the number of cuttings.”
DeVries says Case IH offers a full line of cutting, conditioning, raking and
baling equipment that can be tailored to individual operations and needs. “We
have steel-on-steel and rubber-on-rubber conditioning rolls, a flail
conditioner, and high-contact rolls. The chevron design on the rolls helps
evenly spread the material across the full width of the windrow, so you get
better, more uniform drydown. And with Case IH equipment, it’s easy to adjust
the settings to get the right crimp on the stems for optimum dry down.”
Shinners reminds growers to make sure the conditioning rolls are set up
correctly, to reduce the mechanical resistance of the moisture leaving the
plant. “The roll clearance needs to be set so that the stem is cracked every
three to four inches to open up routes for water to exit the plant.”
Reliability is Key
With hay acreage dwindling and prices high, both Shinners and DeVries cite
equipment reliability as another major factor in optimizing productivity.
“Especially for larger producers and custom harvesters,” Shinners says. “You
can’t have workers sitting at the edge of the field waiting for the harvester to
get back up. You need the assurance that when the crop is ready, the weather is
right and the labor is there, they can get to work.”
DeVries agrees: “Hay producers can’t afford to lose a half-day. You can
decrease the value of the crop significantly, so reliable equipment is huge.” He
says the Case IH Field of Deals sales event is a great time to visit your local
Case IH dealer, “to learn more about what productive, reliable, red equipment
can do for your hay or forage operation.”
The Case IH Field of Deals sales event is running
now through April 30, 2012. For more information, visit www.caseihdeals.com.