Round bales have polka-dotted hay fields for more than 30 years, and the machines that form these forage packages continue to evolve.
The catalyst for baler redesigns and adoption of new technology is the differentiation in customer base. Most manufacturers recognize two groups of baler owners—commercial hay producers and farmers who bale to meet the needs of their own operation or hobby farmers.
The results are balers with improved pickup designs, wider pickup widths, and more features, options and technology innovations. Numerous models have emerged. For example, New Holland offers 11 round baler models.
One feature that is becoming more mainstream is net wrapping.
"Net wrap has had a slow take-up rate, but now it's expanding extremely rapidly," says Vermeer Corporation product specialist Phil Chrisman. "For example, in Arkansas, our net wrap sales were at about 42% of our machines, but it's close to 60% this year. It won't be too long before people ask, ‘Twine? What's twine?'"
Chrisman says using net wrap instead of twine can bump up productivity by more than 30%. Furthermore, John Deere product specialist Shane Rourke says that switching to net wrap is the single biggest change a baler owner can make to improve their efficiency. The time savings equal more productivity, and it also can save fuel and wear and tear on the machine.
Almost all baler manufacturers now offer a net wrap system as standard or optional. Taking net wrap adoption one step further, Vermeer offers balers from the factory only outfitted with the net wrap package.
Modified monitors. Also at the top of the list of round baler revolutions is ease of operation. A major tool to making better bales is a baler monitor.
Across manufacturers, monitor features vary, but the uniform trend is the overall popularity of outfitting the baler with a monitor.
"We've purposefully made our baler monitor simple to use," Rourke says. "We offer one monitor for balers with full functionality."
Once the bale is built, baler makers have made unloading the bale easier. New Holland offers an optional dealer-installed hydraulic bale ejector.
AGCO Corporation also has had its eye on ease of use; its Hesston Series balers are fully automated. The operator can build and monitor the bale, automate the tying process and unload the bale by activating one button from the tractor seat.
"Probably the biggest surprise about our AutoCycle baler is that it has built-in hydraulics, so the only tractor hydraulic outlet needed is for operating the pickup lift," says Matt LeCroy, product marketing specialist with AGCO.
Round balers have been at the forefront of an emerging concept in agricultural machinery, the ISOBUS 11783 standard for electronics.
Round balers will continue to accumulate mechanical and technological advances. The demand to bale other crops—such as cornstalks and dedicated energy crops—will add to the round baler revolution.