The British Columbia-built machine can dry 18-24 bales an hour, allowing producers to harvst hay when quality is best
NOBLEFORD, Alta. — In the Vanderhoof, B.C., region, 2016 was a bad year for hay. There was lots of rain and not enough time between showers for the swaths to adequately dry for baling.
Emil Gulbranson and his son, Chandler, were frustrated by the weather, so they sought hay-drying solutions. They looked around Canada and parts of the United States, finding a few machines but none that suited their needs and budget.
“None of them seemed to work for us, as far as economics, and they’d do 100 bales a day average,” said Gulbranson.
He was looking for something with capacity to dry 400 to 500, three by four by eight foot bales daily.
The search led them back to British Columbia, where they investigated dryers used in the pulp and paper industry. Then he and Chandler designed their own unit, dubbed it the Maximizer and started Agri Green Enterprises Inc. about 18 months ago.
Three of the dryers are already in use in southern Alberta and on the day of a demonstration near Nobleford Aug. 28, a contingent from Forcam, a Spanish hay company, was on hand to see it work.
The portable bale dryer is powered by a 388 horsepower Volvo diesel engine, which turns a fan and forces heated air through 78 spears that are thrust into each of the six bales that the unit can hold.
As the air is compressed in the fan, its temperature rises, augmented by heat from the engine, and increases to about 100 F above ambient. After 15 to 20 minutes of heated air injection, the bales are ejected. The following period of sweat wicks out remaining moisture along with the heat, said Gulbranson.
“What’s nice about this machine, we leave the bales in for only about 20 minutes … so we can do 18 to 24 bales an hour. That’s way above anything else we’ve seen.”
Some users stack the bales immediately after they leave the dryer, but others let them sit for a day before stacking, allowing all heat and moisture to dissipate.
“It seems to work either way,” Gulbranson said.
He and Chandler have tested bales up to 40 percent moisture, but ideally they’d be below 30 percent. The dryer can then reduce moisture to the desired 15 percent for alfalfa or 12 percent and lower for timothy.
Having the ability to dry hay already baled gives producers more leeway in their timing and also has other advantages.
“Around the world, everybody chases the line of too dry and too wet. We always try and bale as close to the line as we can because we can make our most money off our fields, off our acres, by baling and saving all the leaf and the food value,” Gulbranson said.
“If we let it get too dry, we lose money in a hurry. But if we bale on the wet side, and save leaf, a lot of times stacks catch on fire or go bad. So now we can bale early, save all our leaf, keep colour, increase the relative food value and dry it in this machine.
“We could have called it a leaf saver instead of a hay dryer.”
Vandenberg Hay Farms, based in Nobleford, owns the dryer that was demonstrated.
Harvey Vandenberg said the unit, purchased this spring, has been an advantage.
“I think it works well. We’ve saved a lot of hay already this year, hay that was worth a lot of money in the market getting exported. If it wasn’t baled and dried, it would have gotten rained on and lowered its price in half.”
Vandenberg Farms sells hay to exporters, so colour and leaf retention are important for sales and export buyers.
“That’s one of the bigger advantages is that you can bale it a day earlier, or two, whatever it allows, so you can get it up greener,” he said.
“And also when you get it up with a little bit more moisture, there’s better leaf retention and that’s potentially where your high feed value is.”
The trailer containing the motor and fan, and each of the two drying units, are fifth-wheel equipped and can each be pulled with a one-ton pickup.
Gulbranson said it takes 30 to 45 minutes to assemble for use and about the same amount of time to disassemble for transport.
The whole unit is priced at $460,000.
Chandler said the company is able to build one unit every two weeks. The U.S. tariff on steel and aluminum has slowed delivery of needed materials but so far hasn’t greatly affected price, he said.
It would be cheaper to make the units in the U.S., said Emil, but he and Chandler want to keep production in Canada.
The Gulbransons and sales director Ed Shaw are now demonstrating the dryer in Utah and Idaho.