Hay making bigger than Texas

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Katandra hay producer and contractor Luke Felmingham saw super-sized hay making during a tour of the United States.

Katandra hay producer and contractor Luke Felmingham found hay making and agricultural production was literally bigger than Texas on a recent trip to the United States.

“It’s happening on an industrial scale; very efficient,” Luke said about the size of farming operations where dairy farms carried huge herds, feedlots stocked tens of thousands of head and hay making was organised at a highly mechanised and efficient level.

The speed of hay making was an important aspect for Luke, who runs a business processing about 7000 tonnes of hay every year.

Stinger hay bale stacker on one of the US farms.

The turnaround time for hay making — including the cutting, raking and baling processes — are critical for efficient hay production and can also impact on susceptibility to hay fires through spontaneous combustion.

“One of the goals of the trip was to see how they are making hay between three to seven days,” Luke said.

“In Australia we are struggling to achieve that.”

One of the advantages may lie with a roller-crusher that is employed after the crop is cut.

Luke believes it can speed up the curing process by one to two days as it removes moisture from the leaf more efficiently than traditional conditioners.

“Just about everyone had them over there.”

He was so impressed on his return, he ordered some of the rollers.

They will join Luke’s stable of hay production equipment, which includes two Staheli steamers that use a diesel-fired burner and a low-pressure boiler system to control hydration of hay during baling.

Luke Felmingham inspects a Massey Ferguson mower conditioner fitted with crusher rollers. Photo: Simon Finlayson.

“We want to be able to produce better quality hay and that was a goal of the trip,” Luke said.

“The quicker we can get the crop down and into the bale the less chance we have of getting microbial growth and the less chance of that leading to shed and haystack fires.”

The bigger US operators threw large numbers of heavy machinery at big swathes of fields.

“Nothing is done by half. Once they get the job they throw everything at it,” Luke said.

The Australian tour group in a lucerne paddock in Kansas.

“When they were mowing they could have between three to 10 mowers going, 10 to 20 rakes and in some cases you’d see three to five balers going on one field.”

The machinery included the hay stingers, which gather, carry and then stack big squares.

Luke acknowledged that the scale of operations did not translate to Australian conditions but some of the principles they employed were probably useful here.

In Utah, which was very hot and dry, the group saw hay production using steamers in almost every case, running at about 100 per cent to generate between 12 and 13 per cent moisture.

While some of the states had ready access to groundwater, during dry conditions they were noticing the levels falling away and Luke wondered how long that access would remain under continued, intensive farming.

Baling around the clock with a steamer in tow in the US.

One curious point of interest were the sidelines that many successful farms had developed.

They often had identified a promising and profitable small aspect of business which they developed and enlarged, and this was something Luke would like to try his hand at, although he is not yet ready to disclose what he is ruminating over.

Luke’s tour, sponsored through the Hay Guard and Tama companies, took the group through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Nevada in two weeks during June, the hottest time of the year for the mid-western states.