Aerow aerates and fluffs windrows

Swathing isn’t the preferred method of drying down a crop. But if desiccants disappear, swathing may again become the norm, prompting a flurry of development in swather technology.

Aerow is attempting to stay one step ahead of that flurry. The name Aerow comprises two base words — “aerate” and “row”. And that’s exactly what Aerow does. It aerates rows of crop or hay.

If necessity really is the mother of invention, then she’s been busy in northwestern Saskatchewan. Aerow was born in an area notorious for wet conditions.

Inventor and farmer Ryan Sommerfeld puts up 1,000 acres of hay annually, a frustrating task in that wet environment. In his opinion, hay rakes and modified round baler pickups are too slow and cause too much crop damage.

Sommerfeld wanted to dry hay swaths by gently lifting and moving them without losing valuable leaves from the stems. Sommerfeld had some ideas about building a better machine. So in 2018 he took his drawings and a bunch of retired swather parts to a local machine shop. What emerged was a swath management machine that did what he wanted.

In the fall of 2019, Sommerfeld contacted his friend Ben Voss, who farms 15 minutes away. Together, they designed and built a more advanced prototype in the Voss shop. They tested it in the tough 2020 spring harvest conditions. It handled the over-wintered crops better than expected. Local producers saw how well it worked and expressed interest in getting Sommerfeld and Voss to build more.

That’s when Aerow Manufacturing Ltd was born.

But there’s more to their business plan than solving local harvest problems, Voss said.

“When all the grain companies announce to the market that we can’t use desiccants to dry down our crops, we’ll all have to go back to swathing. Farmers aren’t excited about that because they like the productivity of direct harvest, but it’s not going to be our choice.” said Voss.

“We’ll be dealing with green crops and un-even crops and weed growth. Before desiccants, the tried and true method of dealing with these things was to cut it into a swath. But now, if you’ve got a 36-foot swath or a 42-foot swath, that’s a mighty big monster and it won’t dry down very well. You’ll need to aerate it, but you don’t want to turn it more than once.”

Voss says their work this spring showed they can move a large windrow one full width to the side with their prototype Aerow.

There were other surprises. They thought that if they moved a swath over to the adjacent dry surface, that would help in the dry-down process, but it made no difference at all. According to their moisture measurements, the windrow dried as quickly if it was moved to dry ground or turned and left on damp soil.

“The dry-down speed was always faster when the swath went through the Aerow, whether we moved it or set it back down in the same row. It’s a lot different than a swath flipper or a swath inverter. Those old machines used a baler pickup and a little conveyor to move a swath sideways. They’ve have been around 40 years or more. They worked fine but they were slow. Three or four miles per hour. And they can’t handle a big swath.

“Our machine handles those big monster swaths and you drive it at 10 miles per hour. We don’t actually turn the swath, although you can adjust it to give it a twist if you want. The Aerow is designed to lift the swath and re-fluff it. I hate to use that “f” word, but there’s hardly any other adjective. It fluffs up the swath so air gets through it and it dries quickly.”

Another benefit of Aerow is that deer and rodent droppings shake out to the ground so they don’t go through the combine.

The rotor employs a unique patented design. The conventional baler spring teeth pickup fingers are normally mounted on a pipe and they rotate through steel bands to strip the crop or hay off the teeth. Without steel bands, teeth plug up.

“Ryan mounted the teeth over a pipe and then bolted six-inch baler belting onto the front face of the teeth. The ends of the teeth are exposed but the pipe and the spring are covered by the belting. If you turn it at 125 rpm, it’s slow enough that it doesn’t trash the grain, but it’s fast enough that the grain gets tossed over top of the swath. The grain doesn’t fall down.

“When he first showed me, I thought ‘how is this going to work?’ It didn’t seem logical. But it worked. It didn’t tangle. That belting covers the part where the teeth are mounted to the pipe. There’s only four inches of tine exposed, but that’s all it takes. That’s enough to pick up the swath. In hay, it seems the belting acts like a fan. It almost blows the hay back into the machine.”

The operator controls the direction in which the swath flows using a frame-mounted hydraulic cylinder on the two steering wheels, along with a hydraulic steering cylinder controlling the hitch angle.

“It’s a lot like a hydro swing haybine. There’s a pull hitch with a cylinder steering it on a pivot point. The difference is that a hydro swing haybine doesn’t have steering wheels. Ryan’s first machine didn’t have them either. We came up with steering wheels after that, and in testing this spring we saw a pretty meaningful benefit in controlling the swath.”

The system allows the steering tires to change the angle of the rotor relative to the direction of travel of the machine. Steering allows more aggressive or more gentle handling, and angling allows the operator to either spread out the swath or narrow it up.

Voss says haying is where the machine shines. Ryan and Ben found that going in to damp hay to aerate windrows early in the morning allowed them to start baling by late afternoon. He says shatter losses are minimal. Harvest also goes more smoothly because you feed the swath into your baler or combine with less resistance, lump issues or plugging.

He says they did not test on over-wintered canola or pulse crops. He thinks that if canola is soaking wet, it should work fine because that’s the situation the machine is designed for. But if the canola is half-dry, he thinks there will be serious shattering.

It’s ironic that a swather in canola is followed by a roller tamping the windrow down to anchor it to the stubble as insurance against wind blowing it away. Then the Aerow comes along to fluff it up and make it susceptible once again to being blown away.

“If you’re concerned about wind damage, then for sure you roll it down to anchor it. But it’s always a tradeoff, because if you do that you may not get good drying.

“You need every tool possible to expand the day, open the window wider. If you can’t start combining until three o’clock and you have to shut down by seven o’clock… imagine what three or four more hours can do for you. That was the main problem last fall. Short days and then these showers coming through, just enough to stop the combines.”

Voss says he and Sommerfeld plan to run Aerow Manufacturing themselves as joint partners. However, they will contract out the building of the machines.

He says assembly and welding should not be a problem because the steel is precisely laser cut and will be assembled using self-fixturing. This is a system of cutting steel, leaving tabs and notches that snap together to create the basic machine. There’s no need for jig tables and no risk of welding together a twisted machine. Anybody with a MIG can put it together.

The Aerow requires at least 50 horsepower and hydraulic flow of 15 gallons per minute. Available features include power take-off hydraulic pump, electric controls, speed display, flotation tires and extra electronics.

The suggested retail price is expected to range from $23,900 to $29,500 depending on model and options.

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