They are big, fast and pump
out bales as quick as
anything. Peter Hill looks
at whats on offer in the
way of big square balers
THE Hesston 4900 started it all – a giant of a baler designed to pack straw into the most space-efficient packages possible. The obvious output and economies of scale, as well as shape, spawned many other designs, mostly producing smaller bales.
These catered for the sort of handling equipment in most widespread use on farms, and also allowed the big square bale concept to be transferred to the grass silage field.
Today, despite the withdrawal of John Deere-branded Krone balers from the market, there are plenty of models and plenty of different bale shapes and sizes to suit applications.
The Hesston 4900 lives on as the Massey Ferguson MF190 and New Holland BB980, both of which handle only straw, while another two MF models – including the 120cm x 88cm MF187 introduced last year – come out of the same original Hesston factory in Kansas and are suited to silage baling.
The three models that complete the New Holland line-up are made in Belgium and these have been substantially revised and upgraded for this season, warranting a switch to a BB model prefix.
Most changes aim to raise performance levels, reduce power requirement and improve reliability, the latter through improved and upgraded driveline components.
In the pre-compression chamber, for example, the full-width pressure plate used to trigger the stuffing fork has been replaced by a slotted false floor which allows a re-designed fork to fully penetrate the crop.
This has reduced power requirement (compared with the fork tips dragging material across the pre-chamber floor) and improves filling to the top of main bale chamber, especially when baling late season grass. The fork is now activated by a series of tines that detect when the pre-compression chamber is full.
There is also a new automatic control that maintains a more stable hydraulic pressure on the plunger, while knotters are revised for improved tying reliability.
Behind an improved pick-up, the optional CropCutter rotary feeder/fixed knives crop slicing system has 23 or 33 blades (depending on bale width) to reduce material length and increase bale density.
Full-width twin axle under-carriage with leaf spring suspension is also part of the package, and pretty much essential given the popularity of this set-up with big baler users for providing a smoother ride, both in the field and on the road, and a larger area of tyre rubber over which to spread the weight of these machines.
Krone pioneered the idea and continues to fit them as standard equipment on its Big Pack machines; 62kph axles are also standard on the two larger Case-IH balers, while Claas (62kph), New Holland and Vicon offer them as options. The latter two designs feature a castor action for the second axle to avoid tyre scrub, with a hydraulic lock for road travel and reversing.
Claas updated its biggest square baler, become the Quadrant 2200, for the 1998 harvest season. Beefier drives with no time-consuming shear bolts to replace were part of the package, along with a bigger, heavier flywheel and faster ram stroke. These contributed to a claimed 10% increase in bale density and 20% more output.
AGCOs MF187 newcomer is designed as a half-way house between the 80cm x 88cm MF185 and the giant MF190. In straw, the wider – 120cm – bales are 40% heavier than those from the smaller machine.
Consistent shape and density is said to result from a pre-compression chamber and a mechanism that triggers the stuffer fork assembly when an operator-set density is reached. Load cells on the plunger then monitor overall bale density, with an electronic system then automatically adjusting hydraulic cylinders acting on the top and sides of the bale chamber.
While the biggest volume bales provide the most efficient field handling, haulage and use of storage space, smaller sizes suit a wider range of handling machinery and allow easier man-handling of bale wads around the farm yard.
Road transport has influenced growing popularity of the 70cm deep bale since four layers of such bales on a typical truck deck produces a load 2.8m high, compared with three 80cm deep bales at 2.4m and four 80cm layers producing a low bridge-busting 4.2m.
It is the ability to break up unwrapped silage bales and place sections easily in feeders that is one of the principal attractions of square bales for silage. That, and that high densities achieved, which helps keep air out and ensiles grass in good condition.
The technique has been slow to catch on, largely because of the relative inconvenience of bale pack ensiling methods. But now that manufacturers have more or less perfected square bale wrappers, big square balers are being used more often in grass; indeed, few contractors get through a season without welcome forays into the silage fields to build annual workload.
Silage baling has also made crop slicing a more important feature. In its simplest form, crop slicing equipment comprises just a few fixed knives in the intake throat or pre-compression chamber, principally to help when it comes to taking bales apart for hand-feeding or when added to diet feeders.
The Krone Big Cut system is an option for the Big Pack 80-80 (with three knives) and the wider Big Pack 120-80 (with five knives); New Hollands Packer Cutter six-knife system is an option on the 80cm x 90cm BB940; while a four-knife arrangement is standard on the 80cm x 70cm Case-IH 530.
For more comprehensive slicing, which helps pack more material into each bale and enables animals to pull material from bales more easily, a spiral rotor feed system and a lot more knives does the job.
Given the need for additional driveline components and a strong rotor spanning a wide intake, these devices do not come cheap, although at just £3180 this option on Case-IH 540 and 550 balers looks a bargain. Claas charges £6250 for Roto Cut on the Quadrant 1150; Rotor Cutter adds £9464 to New Holland BB940 and BB960 prices; and Proficut is £11,000 and £12,500 on Welger D4000 and D5000 balers; while Roto Cut is a £13,600 option for the Claas Quadrant 2200.
With some exceptions, more equipment is being included as standard. Auto lubrication (or centralised manual systems in some cases), electronic controls and some means of keeping knotters free of dust and debris (fans or a blast of compressed air do the job), are more common, with roller-type and hydraulically folded bale chutes, and an ejector to empty the bale chamber either standard or optional. *
BIG SQUARE BALERS – THE ESSENTIAL SPEC
Make CNH Claas Vicon CNH Welger
Model New Holland BB920 Quadrant 1150 LB8000-70 Case-IH 530 D4000 / D4050
Bale size* 80 x 47 80 x 50 80 x 70 80 x 70 80 x 70
Plunger speed 61 68 46 60 64
Pick-up width 1.97m 2.0m / 2.1m 2.0m 1.8m 2.3m / 2.25m
Fixed knives no no no four no
Rotary slicer no £6250 no no £11000
Auto lube no no £745 yes no
Electronics yes no £1395 yes yes
Bale ejector no yes £1295 yes yes
Roller chute no yes £895 yes £600
Knotter fans £tba yes £660 yes yes
Axles single 40kph single single single single
Base build £30,375 £33,750 £59,950 £43,640 £54950
with key options~ std std £64,195 std £55550
with twin axles n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
with crop slicer n/a £40,000 n/a £43,640 £66,550
with both above n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Notes: Two-bale stacker for Claas Quadrant 1150 – £3500; for New Holland BB920 – £2963.
Make Krone Vicon AGCO CNH
Model Big Pack 80-80 LB8000-80 MF185 New Holland BB940
Bale size* 80 x 80 80 x 80 80 x 88 80 x 90
Plunger speed 50 46 41 42
Pick-up width 2.0m 2.0m 2.0m 1.97m
Fixed knives 3 £675 no no 6 £4002
Rotary slicer poa no no £9,464
Auto lube yes £745 n/a £682
Electronics yes £1,395 yes yes
Bale ejector yes £1,295 £1,222 yes
Roller chute yes £895 £692 yes
Knotter fans yes** £660 n/a yes
Axles twin single single twin £7,321
Base build £51,000 £59,950 £57,146 £58,130
with key options~ std £64,195 £59,060 std
with twin axles n/a n/a n/a £65,451
with crop slicer £51,675 n/a n/a £67,594
with both above n/a n/a n/a £74,915
Make Vicon CNH Claas Krone Welger
Model LB12000-70 Case-IH 540 Quadrant 2200 Big Pack 120-70MC D6000 / D6050
Bale size* 120 x 70 120 x 70 120 x 70 120 x 70 120 x 70
Plunger speed 46 38 51 38 64
Pick-up width 2.2m 2.2m 2.1m 2.0m 2.3m / 2.25m
Fixed knives no no no no no
Rotary slicer no £3,180 £13,600 yes £12,500
Auto lube yes yes yes yes no
Electronics yes yes yes yes yes
Bale ejector £1,985 yes yes yes yes
Roller chute £930 yes yes yes £760
Knotter fans £750 yes yes yes** yes
Axles twin £5,675 twin 62kph twin 62kph £11,100 twin single
Base build £64,595 £48,560 £56,500*** £72,500 £62,650
with key options~ £68,260 std std std £63,410
with twin axles £73,935 std £67,600 std n/a
with crop slicer n/a £51,740 £70,100 std £75,910
with both above n/a £51,740 £81,200 std n/a
*** also available with Roto Feed rotor at £56,500.
Make Krone Vicon CNH AGCO CNH
Model Big Pack 120-80 LB12000-80 Case-IH 550 MF187 New Holland BB960
Bale size* 120 x 80 120 x 80 120 x 85 120 x 88 120 x 90
Plunger speed 38 46 38 42 42
Pick-up width 2.0m 2.2m 2.2m 2.2m 2.24m / 2.4m
Fixed knives five £730 no no no no
Rotary slicer £poa no £3,180 no £11,825
Auto lube yes yes yes no £682
Electronics yes yes yes yes yes
Bale ejector yes £1,985 yes yes yes
Roller chute yes £930 yes £800 yes
Knotter fans yes** £750 yes n/a yes
Axles twin twin £5,675 twin 62kph single twin £7,321
Base build £58,500 £64,595 £52,090 £68,200 £64,778
with key options~ std £68,260 std £69,000 std
with twin axles std £73,935 std n/a £72,099
with crop slicer poa n/a £55,270 n/a £76,603
with both above poa n/a £55,270 n/a £83,924
* Bale size = width x height; ** compressed air blast; ~ key options = electronic controls, bale ejector; roller bale chute and knotter fans but not auto lube.