Baler tests alfalfa feed value in the field, on the fly

Bales receive tags that record information that can be read by handheld scanner

New Holland says the days of taking core samples of alfalfa bales to determine their relative feed value are over.

The equipment manufacturer has equipped all of its 2016 square balers with the CropRFV system.

“What we’re doing is we’re actually measuring the feed value of that crop as it is being baled,” Claude Lesperance, field support specialist for Eastern Canada for New Holland, told the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association’s annual conference.

The technology from New Holland adds precision to hay making.  |  New Holland photo

The technology from New Holland adds precision to hay making. | New Holland photo

Bales receive a vinyl tag containing a radio frequency identification chip that records information such as moisture content, weight, field location and relative feed value (RFV). The tags are read by a handheld scanner or one that mounts in the tractor cab.

“Bales can be stored, sorted and placed into separate piles based on their feed values,” said Lesperance.

It allows farmers to develop a pricing structure for low, medium and high value bales.

“You can charge a premium price for those high value bales,” he said.

Alfalfa RFV can vary dramatically from less than 100 points to more than 250 points because of factors such as plant variety, maturity at time of cutting and handling and harvesting conditions.

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RFV has traditionally been measured by taking two core samples from a bale and analyzing them at a lab. However, even those two samples can vary by 20 to 30 points.

New Holland’s method begins with the farmer getting a lab analysis of a windrow sample of his hay just before or after it is cut.

That determines a starting RFV value for a field, which is then adjusted on a bale-by-bale basis by measuring the weight and moisture content of the bales.

Dual star wheel sensors take moisture readings 96 times every three seconds and are accurate within plus or minus one percentage point.

The baler’s scale provides weight within two percentage points accuracy. Bales with greater density contain more leaves because leaves pack tighter than stems. Ninety percent of the alfalfa’s feed value is contained in the leaves.

New Holland’s system was compared against traditional core testing on 3,000 bales gathered from eight farms across six states. The values closely followed the laboratory results. It was also tested and endorsed by Utah State University dairy specialist Allen Young.

Young said dairy farmers can use the system to save money by feeding lower quality hay to dry cows or heifers while feeding high quality hay to high production cows, which increases milk production by 1.8 kilograms per cow.

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Lesperance said the IntelliCruise Feed Rate Control System is the other big advancement for New Holland’s new square balers.

“It’s basically a cruise control system that we’re implementing into the hay harvesting side of things.”

The system works only in conjunction with tractors equipped with the new ISOBUS Class III information steering system.

The baler talks to the tractor and either slows it down or speeds it up based on windrow thickness.

“It automatically matches the tractor’s forward speed to the crop load,” said Lesperance.

The system can also be switched to slice control mode, which adjusts the speed to produce a specified number and thickness of bale slices.

New Holland believes farmers can be nine percent more efficient in their baling operation by allowing the baler to run at optimal performance and reducing driver fatigue.

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Farmers who do not own a tractor equipped with the ISOBUS Class III system can decline to buy the $400 unlock code for the IntelliCruise system.