In 1978, Hesston Corporation introduced the Model 4800, the industry’s first large square baler, revolutionizing hay production and feeding practices at a time when labor availability and fuel prices were driving a need for innovations on the farm. Big square balers have come a long way since then, and on May 16, 2013, a large crowd gathered at AGCO’s Hesston Operations to celebrate the 25,000th large square baler built in Hesston, Kan.

“Today is not only about celebrating the manufacture of the world’s leading large square baler, it’s about celebrating the people who made it happen, and especially those who are still involved today,” says Dean Morrell, hay and forage product marketing manager at AGCO. “The foresight, passion and ingenuity that go into large square balers built in Hesston have not diminished one bit since Allen White built a giant bale chamber in the engineering lab and manually packed it with hay.”

Fifteen of the guests recognized during the event were involved with developing and building the first large square balers at Hesston and are working at the manufacturing center today. Together, these 15 men have 610 years of experience working at the Hesston plant, with tenures ranging from 36 to 49 years. Their involvement ranges from engineering and parts procurement to field testing, welding, fabrication, shipping and paint; they have been involved in every aspect of big square balers from the first prototypes to today’s popular Hesston by Massey Ferguson® Model 2170XD 4-foot x 3-foot extra density baler and the Hesston Model 2190 4-foot x 4-foot baler, which produces bales weighing up to a ton each. The celebration was filled with fond reflections.

“Working in Field Test was a good fit for me,” tells Kurt Graber, a farm boy with a love of physics, who started in Hesston in 1964. “The company paid me to test many interesting products in farmers’ crops. I learned a lot from the work and from the engineers, who were developing many innovative products.

“Working on the large square baler gave me the greatest feeling of accomplishment, and was the most interesting and challenging of all the projects I’ve worked on during my career at Hesston,” Graber states. His was just one example of the pride of ownership expressed during the event.

Baler Headed to Oregon

It also was with pride the team in Hesston presented the 25,000th large square baler to its new owner, Bill Levy of PacificAg, the largest agricultural residue and hay harvesting business in the United States, headquartered in Hermiston, Ore. Levy, who works with dealer Denzil Robbins of Robbins’ Farm Equipment, Baker City, Ore., has relied on balers built in Hesston since starting PacificAg in 1998. Robbins became a full-line Hesston dealer in 1986, and the dealership has a strong history with Hesston hay equipment, having twice been a member of The Hesston Presidents Club and recipient of the Top Volume Dealers Award of North America nine times during its 27-year history.

Bill Levy, CEO and president of PacificAg, notes that “having AGCO and Denzil Robbins as partners has been a key factor in our success from the beginning. AGCO’s quality and innovation combined with consistent support enable PacificAg to meet the stringent requirements of our customers with minimal maintenance and downtime. We look forward to buying many more AGCO balers going forward.”

Journey From the First to Number 25,000

As anyone who attended the celebration soon learned, creation of the first large square baler was not easy. However, it was technology whose time had come, and the engineers fought hard to launch and keep the project alive.

When White’s first hand-packed 4-foot-by-4-foot bale did not get hot or spoil, engineers went on to build the first prototype baler. They quickly realized that the side-feed approach currently being used wasn’t going to work, and in 1975, the first prototype that fed hay into the bottom of the bale chamber was built. It was soon followed by Prototype #1, which went to the field in early 1976.

Field testing in real-world conditions, working with farmers to meet their needs, have always been a hallmark of equipment development at Hesston, and with extensive field testing, by 1978, the Model 4800 was perfected to the point 28 units were built, including units for demonstration in Australia and Europe. These productive balers proved to be a more labor-efficient and economical way to harvest, store and feed forages.

Nearly 50 individual patents were awarded to the original baler, but within four years, a new prototype was in the works. Over the years, numerous upgrades were made; the facility transitioned from Hesston to Fiat and Case IH before being purchased by AGCO in 1991. Through the years, large square balers were built in three different sizes and sold under the Hesston, New Idea, Massey Ferguson, Fendt, Challenger, Case IH, New Holland and AGCO brands. Today, the balers built in Hesston are sold in as many as 39 countries and are used to bale everything from alfalfa and grass hay to wheat straw, miscanthus for biofuel production, and even recyclables such as newspaper and aluminum cans.

“It is amazing to look back at all that has gone into today’s big baler models,” says Morrell. “Building the 25,000th baler is an invigorating milestone and a great tribute to everyone who has been involved in its development. I know there will be even more innovations in the future large square balers built in Hesston.”