A fast track to baling efficiency
Cork contractor Alan McGrath is getting impressive returns from his investment in a Kverneland FastBale baler-wrapper
Alan McGrath has been in the contracting business for 30 years and is a baled silage expert, running no less than three combined baler wrappers (two McHale Fusions and one Kverneland FastBale) along with an impressive fleet of Case IH tractors and Kverneland mowers.
Other services provided by Kilworth-based McGrath Contracting include tillage and slurry spreading work, with the team offering farmer customers both tanker and umbilical slurry spreading systems. Reliable machinery and service backup is ably supplied by trusted local dealers as Lynch and McCarthy of Cork and Henry Buckley Agri Sales in Kerry.
In between baling jobs, Alan told me it has been a busy few weeks but that summer 2019 is starting to turn into a challenging one for contractors.
After getting off to a good opening, the last fortnight has halted first cut progress dramatically with a real stop-start feel to the season. Farmers are getting vexed at the lack of progress and in many cases that frustration is being passed onto contractors who can't be in more than one place at a time.
"This morning I have a few hours to bale according to the weather forecast but then there is more rain on the way in the afternoon," Alan explains. "The phone is red because everyone is under pressure, but we are at the mercy of the weather in this game."
Alan got the contracting bug from his father who started out with a single tractor and baler operation and yet somehow managed to rear six kids from the business. "When I look back now it was some achievement," says Alan.
"These days you'd need six tractors out working to rear one kid!" he adds wistfully. "I was always interested in machinery and so after school I went off and trained to become a mechanic. I then worked for a few different contractors to try and learn as much as I could before coming home and joining the family business."
Today the McGrath fleet is impressive, but the main machine I'm keen to hear all about from Alan is his one-year old Kverneland FastBale combined baler wrapper. Now in its second season and with almost 12,000 bales on the clock, Alan bought the FastBale from local machinery dealers Lynch and McCarthy last year. He has thus far been impressed with its efficiency and ability to go toe-to-toe with the two McHale Fusions.
"I always think it's important to try new machines and I have been impressed with this baler," explains Alan. "I had a few teething problems at the beginning with electronics but the back-up from Lynch and McCarthy has been top class.
"Now that I have gotten fully used to it I am able to get more out of it. It's a very different baler to the Fusions so it took some time to get up to speed."
What's different about the FastBale?
Designed and developed at Kverneland's baler competence centre in Italy, the FastBale caused a stir in the machinery industry when it was launched.
Pitched as the only non-stop fixed chamber baler wrapper combination on the market, Kverneland says it does this by directing cropflow into a pre-chamber before moving onto a main chamber, and then of course a wrapper.
A bale-tipping kit to place bales on their side after being released from the wrapper is also built in, and of course a film-on-film applicator kit for those looking to avoid the use of net to secure the bale.
With the FastBale the two chambers are arranged in series, a feature Kverneland says allows a number of rollers to be shared. The first section of FastBale produces two-thirds of the bale.
As the pre-chamber reaches its preset density, crop flow is then diverted into the main bale chamber where the bale can be taken to its maximum size of 1.25m. This design allows baling to continue non-stop.
Once bale formation is complete, crop flow is switched back to the pre-chamber to allow a new bale to begin forming.
Meanwhile, net is being applied to the completed bale, the tailgate is opened and the bale is transferred onto the wrapper.
To make bale transfer simple, Kverneland engineers designed a wrapper frame mounted on a parallel linkage. This enables the wrapper to be lowered to meet the completed bale as it rolls from the main chamber. Once the bale is in place, the wrapper frame is raised again to allow twin satellite arms to wrap the bale.
Unlike traditional wrapping mechanisms, FastBale's twin satellite arms rotate in a vertical direction. Once complete, the wrapper is lowered gently releasing the wrapped bale onto the ground.
Asked how it differs from the Fusion baler wrapper, Alan explains: "The main thing is that the FastBale is a non-stop baler which means you have higher output when everything is going well. If you put it beside the Fusion in the same grass conditions and with both balers working perfectly, the FastBale could make up to 70 bales an hour whereas the Fusion would come in at around 50 bales an hour.
"That is not a negative comment about the Fusion, it's just that both balers are designed to work in a different way. I find the Fusion is still a stronger baler for heavy crops of silage and the camless pickup is an ideal job for tough Irish conditions.
"And of course, at the end of the day with both balers you still have the rate limiting factors of stopping for bale wrap changes and driving from farm to farm, but that is the sort of output we have been getting in optimal conditions."
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