Tim Couser, and his father Bill, harvest more than grain when they run their combines through their central Iowa corn and soybean fields. Their combines pull balers, so in one pass, they also bale the cobs and leaves that come through the combine.
"It's called MOG -- Material Other than Grain -- and it's a really high quality feed source for our cattle," explains Tim.
The Nevada, Iowa, farming partners have been working with John Deere and Hillco Technologies, a company that specializes in aftermarket products for large combines, for the past few years to develop and test a new “single pass round baler" (SPRB) that efficiently gathers and bales the MOG in one pass through the field.
"We're catching high quality feed from the combine that would otherwise be left as waste in the field," Tim says. "It was important to us that the baler not slow down the combine. This baler rolls and drops the bales on the go, so it's an efficient single pass system. You hardly know the baler’s back there."
Couser says the combine’s straw chopper blows the cobs and leaves from the combine spout into an accumulator that's attached to the front of John Deere’s 569 round baler. Three sensors in the accumulator indicate how full the hopper is. The baler engages when the MOG. level reaches the third sensor.
When the bale reaches optimum size, the feeder system shuts off while the bale wraps and ejects. Meanwhile, more MOG is still filling the hopper of the accumulator while this is happening. All this allows continuous harvesting and baling, with no stopping.
Easy to operate
"You don't appreciate how easy it is to operate, and how seamless it is, until you use it," notes Couser. "We have a camera in the cab that gives us a view of the baler, and we have a monitor in the cab that shows the status of a bale."
Couser says the standard bale is five feet wide and six feet high (diameter), but adds that John Deere is also working on a 4-foot by 6-foot bale for easier handling and easier side-by-side fit on a trailer. The Cousers have been using both balers with two combines.
"We get a well-formed, high quality bale that weighs about 1,800 pounds, depending on moisture content," states Couser. "They’re heavier and more dense than the typical stover bales you get from raking and baling stalks from the ground. We're capturing 99.5% of the starch from the corn plant now. We still have a little header loss, but we don't have any loss through the combine. We get all the cobs plus the chipped or cracked kernels, and that makes it a high-quality addition to our cattle feed mixture."
What they don't get from the system is much ash, or dirt. "We may get 3% ash in the bale, from dust that was on the plant," admits Couser. "But we don't get that 10, 15 or even 20% dirt you can get from raking and baling stocks off the ground. We don't want that dirt in our feed -- we want the best material, the most usable product, that’s already been segregated by our corn header."
Since the MOG accounts for less than 20% of the residue left after combining, the baling system also leaves more than enough residue in the field to protect against soil erosion. "On 200 bushel-per-acre corn, we get about a bale to 1.2 bales per acre," explains Couser. "We’re left with so much crop residue, we can use this on all our highly erodible land.
"You can simply unhook the baler whenever you don't want to use it," he continues. It takes only about half a day to remove the accumulator and revert back to a baler only. The system is designed to work with the John Deere S670, S680, and S690 combines.
"It works great for us because we use all this MOG material from both corn and soybeans for cattle rations," Couser says. "But I could see the bales as an added revenue source if you didn't have cattle. We haven't had many breakdowns. We see a lot of upside to this, and plan to continue to use it for a long time." - Betts writes from Johnston, Iowa.
Watch the SPRB in action
The Cousers are among a dozen or so farmers who have been testing the single pass round baler on the farm. Tim says the accumulator will be available through local John Deere dealers. You can see video of the system in action online by googling "YouTube single pass round baler."