Hybrid alfalfa, Harvestore spur progress over the years

US - The sweet smell of newly cut hay is a sure sign of summer. The long green windrows of alfalfa snake their way around hills in contour strips or run in neat, straight rows across farm fields.
calendar icon 5 June 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
When the long green windrows of alfalfa paint a picture of rural life on the countryside, it's a sign that warm weather has arrived to stay in Wisconsin.

Hay, whether in the form of high nutrition alfalfa in the United States or roadside grass in some parts of the world, is harvested and stored for winter animal feed. It's the basic feed for milk production.

Most of today's older dairy farmers have seen the great strides made in making hay. They look back and wonder how come they had to work so hard making hay as kids. It was one of the toughest jobs on the farm, even worse than harvesting tobacco, often considered the "backbreaker'' in the Dane, Rock and Vernon county tobacco areas.

In the 1950s farmers were still making hay with a hay loader and storing it loose in the hayloft. It was a dirty, sweaty job as the chaff from the very dry hay got down the neck of your shirt and stayed there. Most likely, stacking hay in the nearly airless and dust-filled hayloft (called mowing) of years gone by would never pass safety rules today.

Hay balers were modified, modernized and made available to the masses of farmers, rapidly taking over as the machine of choice. Early balers required two men to perch on the back of the machine feeding wires into a bale channel. A man with a fork fed the hay from a pickup into the machine while yet another drove the tractor.

It didn't take long for the self-tie twine baler to arrive on the scene. They're still around but have been modified to form different-sized bales, from small ones to 1,000-pound big squares and big rounds.

Somewhere along the line, in the 1950s perhaps, engineers and agronomists began figuring out how to store hay in the silos that were present on every farm.

In 1953 a truly landmark event took place in the raising of hay on the farm: UW-Madison released Vernal, a hybrid alfalfa (the result of cross breeding 11 parental clones) that was winter hardy, bacterial wilt resistant, high yielding and of superior quality.

Now farmers had the ingredient they needed to raise more and better hay for their livestock. The challenge for ag educators was to convince farmers to change how they harvested hay. Traditionally, hay was harvested after it was mature and dry, meaning a big loss of leaves and nutrients.

A second event took place almost concurrently when a new forage storage unit, called a Harvestore, began appearing on farms across the land. Blue, glass-lined steel storage units sprouted in rural areas like weeds as manufacturer A.O. Smith hired ag teachers and top farmers as sales representatives.

The Harvestore company sold a "hay making system" that taught farmers how to raise, harvest, store and feed their forages. The Harvestore folks made farm tours a common phrase as they showed potential customers how their air-tight units were working on active farms. John Wagner, a prominent dairy farmer near Waunakee, was an early Harvestore buyer who opened his barn doors to the tours. Les Helgeson of Footville, who had early Harvestore dealerships in Janesville, Hartford and Dodgeville, became a legend.

Source: The Capital Times
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