A Farm Equipment Special Report: What Will Agriculture Look Like in 2021?

The disappearing mid-sized producer is the impetus that will drive technology seen in other agricultural equipment to the hay and forage markets in the next 10 years, experts say.

"It's taken this trend a little longer to get to forage, but we're now seeing more and more part-time or lifestyle farms and more larger, efficiency-driven farms with the mid-sized farm gradually disappearing," says Joe Michaels, director of forage solutions for Vermeer. "Small producers are likely to be tech savvy and want the convenience while large producers will want the technology if it makes them faster and more efficient."

GPS, auto-steer, fleet management and yield monitoring are just a few of the technologies experts see crossing over to the hay and forage industry in the near future. Livestock markets will drive that demand.

"In times when the prices for milk and beef are low and input costs such as fertilizer, fuel and labor are getting higher and higher, the efficiency of hay and forage production is becoming more important," says Josef Horstmann, managing director of research and development at Krone.

He notes that beef and dairy operators are leaning more heavily on custom harvesters.

"We're having to listen more to those custom operators that demand high-capacity machines with high-quality output and low maintenance costs which lead to high efficiency," Horstmann says. "In the next 10 years, the capacity of hay and forage machinery will increase and electronic systems will help improve efficiency."

Hay and forage equipment also has lagged in the "go big, or go home" strategy of row-crop production. Horstmann sees that ground being made up in the next 10 years.

"We produce the largest forage harvester in the world right now with 1,078 horsepower and the widest corn header on the market with 14 rows. Looking forward, I expect to see more power and at least a 20-row corn header," Horstmann says.

The same goes for mowers, rakes, tedders and balers. Michaels sees tedders making it all the way to 80 feet in the next 10 years. Going wider while maintaining speed and accuracy should bring demand for additional changes in engineering, he says.

"More and more hydraulic suspensions are being used with new mowers and rakes to allow the wider equipment to hug the ground and operate at a high speed as compared to spring suspension systems," he explains. "Next, we'll see the marriage of electronics with the hydraulic systems which will allow us to go even wider and faster."

Michaels envisions GPS and topographical maps being used with electrohydraulic systems to create an active suspension system that automatically adjusts to field conditions.

Advanced Haying Technology

Here are some ways Horstmann and Michaels see technologies possibly advancing in hay and forage harvesting:

  • Today — Systems that measure total yield and hay moisture, and those that can automatically adjust length of cut depending on crop dry matter.
  • In 10 Years — Systems capable of creating yield maps and even ingredient maps (measurements of moisture, nitrates, protein and energy).
  • Today — A wireless forage camera on the spout allows for easier truck filling.
  • In 10 Years — Automatic filling systems guided by infrared light. Or a master and slave system for the chopper where as the truck approaches the forage harvester takes over the truck and regulates direction and speed while filling occurs.
  • Today — Tagging systems store information about individual bales including moisture, ingredients and GPS location.
  • In 10 years — Autonomous "robot" bale collectors that use GPS signals to locate, pick up and clear fields of bales.
  • Today — GPS steering for mowers.
  • In 10 years — Creating a GPS line with the mower to guide the baler or chopper following behind. Mowers capable of automatic adjustment of speed, cutting height and conditioner based on yield and crop maturity.
  • Today — Operators and tractors control balers.
  • In 10 years — Tractors are driven by the baler that will automatically adjust speed, steer for even chamber filling and stop for wrapping.
  • Today — Stand-alone mowers.
  • In 10 years — Combination rigs of mowers and rakes or mowers and tedders to reduce trips over the field.
    Changing Service Strategies

Forget bricks and mortar, service will need to be mobile for many hay and forage equipment dealers in the future, Michaels says.

"Unlike professional farmers, hobby farmers don't buy tractors, balers, mowers and rakes to work on them. They want to get home from their real job and have them ready to get things accomplished," he says.

"There is an avenue opening up for dealers to offer mobile services such as oil changes and general maintenance to these customers."

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