This week, The Scottish Farmer caught up with Gary McConnell, a sales rep for McHale in Scotland and northern England to find out about how baler technology is moving forward and what could be coming down the line.

The Scottish Farmer: Garry McConnell Garry McConnell

What are the key features and advancements in agricultural balers that have driven the industry forward in recent years?

Shorter weather windows and larger tractors mean we have to increase capacity and intakes on our balers, which has moved on to a level where we are easily achieving a bale per minute in the right conditions. Automation and Isobus control is also making it much easier for the operator to achieve this.

Do you see any changes in the demands from customers on balers?

Due to skilled labour shortages and the advancements in tractors, quite a few customers are looking for adjustments to be made from the tractor cab, touch of a button adjustments as you go. It’s a balance between keeping things simple and pleasing the wider audience.

From the success of the film on film technology on the Fusion integrated baler/wrappers, we are receiving a lot of questions regarding the ability to wrap straw bales with a layer of film in lieu of net wrap – it is mostly to satisfy storing bales outside over winter. It is not there yet but something the film companies will look at.

What are some common challenges or limitations that farmers face when using balers, and how have manufacturers worked to overcome these obstacles?

Regardless of the width of the baler pickup reel or the tractor in front, we are still trying to take 30ft of grass or more, in some cases lumpy, wet and tangled, chop it and compress it into a 4ft wide bale. We have advanced a lot with rotor sizes, side auger positioning, changes to crop flow and speed/torque changes in the driveline to help overcome some of these challenges.

In cereals, changes to combines and header sizes are proving a challenge in some parts of the country in regards to baler pick-up widths. All manufacturers are restricted by the same legalities regarding transport width so it’ll be a challenge to overcome as machines get bigger.

How do balers contribute to sustainability and environmental efforts in modern agriculture?

Increases in bale density and bale quality have reduced customers’ carbon footprint by getting better quality feed from less acres. Our film on film option in our balers means we only have one product to dispose of, so once our customers open the bales, recycling is easier and more efficient.

There is a drive for more recycling of bale wrap and net on farm – do you see balers being able to use alternative produces in future?

We have come a long way in terms of recycling plastic but there is still room for improvement. We work closely with crop packaging companies and they are always striving for ways to make their crop binding materials more recyclable. This will be more important than ever moving forward and we will continue to test and trial them accordingly.

How will balers evolve to meet the needs of farming in the future?

One of the greatest challenges we see globally is the increased shortage of skilled labour – that’s both at farm and dealer level. Because of this a greater level of automation will be required and even more simplicity in the operation and maintenance of machines. Telematics and connectivity with the end user could be something in the future for diagnosing any in-field issues and getting information back to the factory quicker and more accurately. We already offer on-board weighing and moisture recording on some of our balers and this will evolve further.

What factors should farmers consider when choosing the right baler for specific crops, farm type, and operational requirements?

What percentage of silage versus hay/straw are you baling? Is having the ability to change bale size an important factor for you? What bale count do you expect to do on an average year? Are you happy with the baler having its own controller or do you wish to run through the tractor Isobus? These are some of the questions we would ask a potential customer.

What are your top tips for farmers to maintain and service balers to get optimal performance and longevity?

We would always recommend a visual check of your baler in the morning before a long day’s baling.

If available, a quick blow-off of any loose crop with an air compressor would do no harm – at the same time, it allows the operator to see any potential issues or something that may be wrong with their machine.

Keep the chain oiler topped up and grease within the recommended intervals to extend the life of your machine.

Chains are easy to adjust as they stretch and well-maintained chains will reduce wear on more costly replacement parts such as sprockets. If using a Baler with a chopping knife option, we can’t stress enough to keep the knives sharpened. This not only makes the machine easier to drive but saves you fuel.

For the time it takes to remove and sharpen the knives, it’s time well spent.