Future Forward

The Hesston TwinMax dual-conditioning system has what it takes to handle tomorrow’s bioenergy crops.

By Tharran E. Gaines

Under the header: an up-close look at the conditioning bars on the Hesston® by Massey Ferguson windrowers.

Under the header: an up-close look at the conditioning bars on the Hesston® by Massey Ferguson windrowers.

Ethanol from corn and grain may have been king to this point, but a new heir has slowly, quietly been gaining favor … and a share of the market. Cellulosic fuel production, with dozens of specialized ethanol plants in development or conversion, is poised for the next chapter in bioenergy.

By definition, cellulosic ethanol is any biofuel produced from wood, grasses or the inedible parts of plants, such as cornstalks and leaves. Specifically, it comes from lignocellulose, a structural material that comprises much of the mass of plants. In addition to corn stover, switchgrass, sorghum and Miscanthus are the major biomass crops gaining favor today. That’s due in large part to their high biomass per acre.

For instance, Miscanthus, a native of Africa and Asia, can easily grow to heights of 12 to 15 feet in just one season. Yet, while such massive yields are great for the grower, they’re tough on most windrowers.

“Unlike corn stover, which can be raked and baled after harvest, switchgrass and Miscanthus have to first be cut and windrowed,” says Dean Morrell, AGCO product marketing manager for hay and forage equipment. “That’s where the Hesston dual-conditioning system really comes into play.

“Exclusive to Hesston by Massey Ferguson windrowers, our TwinMax Conditioning System features two sets of rolls that can help with high-yield crops. The front set of rolls tends to spread the crop into a mat so the second set of rolls can do an even better job. Also, both sets of rolls are hydraulically tensioned, and that provides more thorough conditioning. Unlike springs, the hydraulic system can be adjusted to where it literally cracks those tough stalks.

“As a result,” Morrell continues, “the crop not only dries faster—so it can be baled earlier—but permits tighter, heavier bales, which is important since biofuels usually need to be trucked some distance to the nearest plant.”

King of Conditioners

Andy Rollin, owner of Rollin Valley Farms near Riverdale, California, certainly knows the difficulties of cutting tall crops with sturdy stalks. Not only does he grow alfalfa, Sudangrass and forage sorghum for his dairy operation, but he recently put in a test plot of sorghum varieties—ranging from fine-stemmed species to some with fairly sturdy stalks.

The TwinMax double conditioner on his Hesston windrower handled them all.

“I love it,” he says, in reference to the double conditioning system. “I’ve had it two years now and easily gain a day … maybe two in Sudan … on drying time.”

Rollin notes that in Sudan, he usually “cranks down” the roll pressure to where it cracks and crimps the plant stalks, yet is not so tight that it inhibits the flow of material through the conditioner, resulting in clumping. And he hasn’t found a crop yet that doesn’t benefit from the TwinMax conditioner.

“I think it makes the Sudan a lot more palatable, too,” he relates. “The heifers sure seem to clean up every bale I feed.”

Growing Miscanthus

Emily Heaton, assistant professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, discusses a range of topics relating to Miscanthus x giganteus. Included in the interview, recorded at an Iowa State University test plot in October 2012, are tips on how to plant the biocrop, its storage and transportation, and the potential for growth in the market.

Part 1:

Part 2: