Technology makes a big difference in forage production


(By Ted Wiseman, OSU Extension Perry County)

Technology continues to change our everyday lives and how we work in agriculture. How much ground is needed to justify using this technology?

Many producers will indicate that the initial costs are too high for purchasing the equipment or there is no benefit in forage production.

I would encourage you not to be so quick to discount its use. How many of us today have a smart phone and will never go back to using a land line or a simple cell phone.

With my phone I can stand in a field and use an app to determine what soil type is under my feet, weed identification, check the weather, use it to determine longitude and latitude to record where I pull soil samples, but yet still call someone who I do not need to remember their phone number, because it’s already stored there.

Forage tech

Technology adoption in hay and pasture production has lagged behind other crops for numerous reasons. Today there is technology available to assist forage producers. The use of Global Positioning System and other electronic technologies are now crossing over into the hay and forage industries.

Lightbar technology has been around for a number of years. The primary function of a lightbar is to show a driver how to steer a machine along parallel passes or swaths moving across a field. The driver still needs to make the headland turns positioning the machine close to the next pass.

There are various types with different displays. Generally speaking these can be purchased for $1,000-$3,000. Depending upon the acres you have, most can quickly recover this cost in a short time.

Most producers typically overlap each pass across a field by 4 to 10 percent. Lightbars have an accuracy of less than one foot on a pass to pass.

This equipment can easily be transferred from one machine to another make it useful for seeding, spraying, spreading fertilizer and lime on pasture and hay. In a pasture situation it can be used to determine total acreage by simply recording data when mowing pasture fields.

I have met many producers who have indicated they have paid for this equipment in the first year just using it for those applications previously mentioned. Today we have machines that are accurate to within an inch using Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS.

Seed placement

This is very accurate placing your machine within 1 inch of its target. These systems are more expensive because they require a base station, or tapping into a neighbor or a nearby retailer’s RTK network.

This has rapidly been adopted into row crop production and beginning to see it’s use in forage harvesting equipment as well. Some of the self-propelled mowers and forage choppers have this available.

What about other technological advances in forage production? Wouldn’t it be advantageous to be able to have the baler automatically adjust bale tension, preservative rates, record moisture and create a field map. This technology is currently available.

Forage harvesters can now give real time nutrient analysis recording moisture, dry matter, protein, starch, ADF and NDF. To view some of the technologies that are available you can view a video recorded earlier this year during Ohio State University Extensions Forage School webinar.

Rory Lewandoski and Jason Hartschuh presented the information and can be found at:

Investment options

With commodity prices, especially livestock at record levels, now would be a good time to start looking into what would be beneficial for your hay and pasture operation. Contact your local dealers, attend farm field days and speak with your neighbors.

As some producers upgrade to newer equipment they may have what would work for you. The Internet has blogs that you can view what other producers are saying about the type of equipment they have and what the pros and cons they have experienced.

Don’t be surprised if one day we have machines that will be able to mow pastures and retrieve rounds bales automatically.

Technology has helped agriculture become more efficient and will continue to play a role with new advances and automation.

(Ted Wiseman is an OSU Extension educator in Perry County.)

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