At the launch of its 2015 product line in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in August, John Deere announced it had partnered with a few other, smaller manufacturers to offer farmers some unique specialty equipment. One of the most notable of those joint efforts was the Single Pass Round Bale System (SPRB), created in conjunction with Hillco Technologies of Nezperce, Idaho.
Hillco’s design enables a Deere round baler to be hitched behind a Deere combine, allowing producers to harvest and bale in one pass over the field. It offers significant time and labour savings for those who want to bale straw for livestock or collect residue for biomass energy.
And because the system does a good job of collecting any kernels thrown out the back of the combine along with all the MOG (Material Other than Grain), the straw bales produced by the SPRB have a higher feed value than those rolled up by a tractor-drawn baler. That makes these bales much more than just bedding.
“It’s (catching) a very high percentage of the fines,” says Lenny Hill, Hillco’s owner and president. “From a grain standpoint, even with the machine (combine) running well, there’s a one per cent loss. We’re going to get anywhere from 120 to 150 pounds of grain in every 1,750 pound bale, so there’s actually a lot of value in there.
“Regarding corn, typically a bale is going to weight in the 1,450 pound range, whereas these bales are going to weigh in the 1,750 pound range. The reason for that is we’re collecting all the material coming through the combine. A lot of fine material is going to be collected and packed in there.”
“(As feed) it’s a lot more digestible. When we look at TDN, ordinary corn stocks are on average around 48.5. SPRB bales are all the way up around 87. That would be very similar to a first cutting of grass hay. It’s not only a much more efficient way to collect material, now we have a much higher quality product from a feed standpoint as well. The dirt content is also much, much lower.”
But combines need to run hard and fast, especially here in Western Canada, in order to get crops off in the available weather window. The last thing anyone wants to do is slow one down in order to accommodate the frequent stops a tractor-drawn round baler requires to kick out bales. But Hill says there’s no need to worry about that with this system.
“Everybody thinks if you put a round baler behind a combine you’re going to have stop and eject bales like you do with a tractor,” he explains. “That, obviously, was out. You can’t stop a machine that has to be productive.”
“Instead of having to stop the machine during the eject cycle, what we do is accumulate material in the hopper. This is a non-stop process of residue collection in the field. It’s a fully automated process as well. There was concern that there is enough going on in a combine already, but we’ve really improved the automation of the system to the point where you start harvesting and bales come out the back.”
The way the system achieves that is by collecting material in a hopper after it comes out of the combine. A sensor identifies when there is sufficient material built up to begin feeding the baler. That also ensures the baler is fed across its full width and creates a nice, square shouldered bale. Essentially, that achieves the same result as weaving along windrow to get material into both sides of the pickup in a tractor-drawn baler.
“When we get to a full bale size, the automation stops the feed system and starts the net wrapping,” he adds. “As soon as the net wrapping is done, if we have it in the fully automatic mode, it automatically opens the gate and ejects the bale and closes again. And all that time the material is accumulating in the hopper.”
That also means the baler only operates when required and stops when the hopper needs to refill. That helps minimize power demands and reduces the number of revolutions material makes inside the chamber preventing fines from being pounded out of the bale, ensuring it keeps its quality.
“For example, in corn we’re only running that baler about a third of the time, because we’re accumulating. Then, we feed that all out and stop again until it accumulates more material,” says Hill.
The hitch design of the SPRB allows for very tight headland turns in the field, so there is a minimum effect on the combine’s handling.
“A lot of people are concerned about manoeuvrability, as we were when we first started,” he adds. “But it’s amazing how well those machines move through the field.”
And Hill says the round baler makes the best fit for this type of system. Large square balers were considered, but they were too cumbersome.
“The reason we chose the round baler was really driven by (maintaining) the efficiency of the combine,” says Hill. “The total weight for this system is going to be less than 12,000 pounds, including the baler. If you contrast that to a large square baler, it’s going to weigh 20,000 to 22,000 pounds. A large square baler is going to require typically upwards of 100 horsepower. On a round baler we’re pulling an average of 35 horsepower off the combine.”
The combine doesn’t require any modifications to run the SPRB. There are a couple of bolt-on attachments designed to run off existing shafts, but nothing else. And the system can be disconnected from the combine in about five minutes.
“You can see right away the advantage of a single pass system compared to making two or three passes through the field,” he adds. “It’s a more efficient way of collecting material. The early adopters are the cattle-feeding guys. There’s also potential in the ethanol market. This is the first release of this, nationally. Dealer programs will be going out to dealers in the neighbourhood of late September, early October. That’s when the product will be available to the public.”
Official pricing hasn’t yet been established, but Hill estimates it will cost approximately US$80,000, not including the John Deere baler.