Chris Martin saw how hay bale dryers were working in Quebec and thought that the concept would work on his farm in Ontario. And he figured he and his brother could make one that worked even better.
Three years later, they have their dryer working – but not perfected – and have sold one other unit and expect to install two more in 2018. The pair expect to launch their bale dryer commercially in a couple of years under a separate company called Chinook Bale Dryers.
Bale dryers have been in use sporadically in Europe and other parts of Canada, but they’ve been an imperfect technology and not highly adopted in Canada.
But for farmers who struggled to get dry hay baled in a summer where rain was a constant visitor, the ability to bale at 20 to 25 per cent moisture and then use a dryer to get the hay down to 12 per cent could be very attractive.
Chris Martin, who runs Marhaven Agri, with brother Scott, sells 1500 tonnes of hay per year into the United States and about 2000 tonnes locally. Most of that market is for horse hay which has to be clean, dry, green and have little use of preservatives. That’s a tough order in Ontario’s climate.
The Martin brothers run about 250 head of cattle through two turns at a feedlot on their farm near Alma, Ont. Those cattle get the roughly 30 per cent of the hay harvested by the Martins that doesn’t meet the exacting standards of their buyers.
“We hope this thing will help turn some of that 30 per cent into good hay,” he said, by being able to harvest it a couple of days earlier than usual. They found that being able to harvest hay at the end of the day, a bit damper and earlier, around 20 per cent moisture, then drying it, gave them hay that was 1.5 per cent higher in protein level.
The dryer removes 20 to 30 lbs of water per bale in 12 to 13 minutes. The bales are put onto a table beside the dryer using a tractor or telehandler and then an arm shoves the bales into the dryer.
Most hay dryers work in two ways, they push air up through the hay bale, or they bake it in a type of hay furnace that also uses hot air. The Martins, working with Chris’s brother-in-law who works in agricultural manufacturing, decided that to move a higher volume of hay quicker, they needed to get the air right into the bale.
They achieve that by pressing 58 spikes with air holes into each bale, using hydraulic cylinders on both sides of the unit. That means the air is better distributed in the bale for quicker, more even drying. The unit dries two bales at a time, either three feet by three feet by eight feet bales or three feet by four feet by eight feet.
The hot air for the blower is created by a 175 HP, 6.8 litre diesel John Deere engine, housed in an area added to the side of the Martins’ large hay shed. They harvest the hot air from the exhaust and the radiator and that’s warm enough to dry the hay.
“There have been a lot of growing pains, that’s for sure,” says Chad. “It will be a tool to help manage your farm and get better. It won’t be a saviour.”
The second unit has been installed at the farm of another large hay grower, Fritz Trauttmansdorff, and there the hot air is created using a genset generator creating electricity.
The Martins’ blower is modular, meaning more units can be added for greater capacity.
The Martins gave a tour of the dryer during the recent Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (CFGA) national conference held in Guelph, Ont. Chris is on the CLGA board of directors.
Ray Robertson, manager of the Ontario Forage Council and chairman of the CFGA, says he believes a locally made dryer could revolutionize the hay sector in the province, allowing the growing of more higher quality hay, mostly for growing export markets in the Middle East and Asia.
The Ontario Hay Cooperative has been formed to install a hay compactor, which is needed for hay to be compressed so more can be fit into shipping containers. There are currently no hay compactors in the province, although there are some in Quebec and Western Canada.