Haymakers overcome challenges, open new doors with ZR5-1200 self-propelled baler
Self-propelled baler streamlines labor, hay production and management.

Producing a high-quality forage crop in theory is easy — the hay grows, you cut it, you rake it, you bale it, end of story. In reality, that’s not the case at all. Rather, Mother Nature always has ultimate control and she’s not always friendly.

With the Vermeer ZR5-1200 self-propelled baler in full production, hay producers have a machine that helps them have a bit more control in the process of making hay. After having operated the machine, custom hay and livestock or forage producers from the Midwest to the Western Slope have discovered the benefits of the machine’s innovative features. With the Vermeer self-propelled baler, new efficiencies have been created across each operation, with immediate benefits that can unfold into broader positive long-term changes for overcoming challenges and maximizing hay quality and output.

Productivity and operation management, ride quality, maneuverability and overall operating speed are all areas in which ZR5-1200 operators have noticed major improvements over previous conventional balers.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a piece of farm machinery or a piece of machinery in general,” said Aaron Cuthrell, Early, Iowa, custom hay producer. “It makes baling fun again.”

In the field and on the road: Speed is key

Cuthrell has been able to get more from his time in the field and stay ahead of potential weather disruptions, ultimately contributing to higher-quality bales for his customers. This custom hay producer was one of the first in the nation to operate a ZR5-1200, considers himself an early adopter of new machinery and technology, and says it’s had a clear positive impact on his operation’s productivity.

“If there’s a storm set for later in the week but we can’t bale until a day before that storm hits, we’ll be okay because we have the ZR5-1200 and we can go 12-1/2 miles per hour in the field, depending on the field conditions,” Cuthrell said. “So, we don’t have to worry about the speed factor to finish a field.”

That kind of speed means a lot more than just making hay faster for Scott Neal and his customers around Buffalo, Wyoming. Since he started operating his ZR5-1200 for custom hay production, the machine’s speed — both in and in-between fields — has enabled him to work ahead of his previous normal pace, allowing for high-quality hay in an area where time is a major production variable.

“When I can bale at 13 miles per hour, I can keep up with my swather and free up another person to rake hay or pick up bales, so I can start irrigating fields a lot earlier. The aspect of time is so critical alone, but that time equates to tonnage, productivity and new efficiencies. Time is everything,” Neal said. “This machine has put me two weeks ahead of normal, and that’s huge for us; I have so much more potential to get a third cutting, which a lot of people can’t do around here. The ZR5-1200 has enabled us to control a huge aspect of production. That’s my goal: to make luck the smallest variable, and this machine has made that happen.”

And the speed of the ZR5-1200 isn’t limited to field performance. Cuthrell is able to make better use of his time by getting from one field to the next much more quickly. “A lot of our fields are pretty far away. With cornstalks, we go to western and northern Iowa, but being able to travel at 33 miles per hour down the road keeps us on schedule or ahead of it,” he said.

In the cab: More than comfort

For hay producers — whether baling for their own use or for other customers — ride quality and maneuverability are only a fraction of the in-cab innovations of the ZR5-1200.

“Right off the bat, I just noticed it was the smoothest thing I’ve been in, even in the training seat. I just loved it. It felt like I was floating on a cloud, enjoying the ride,” added Cuthrell. “It was such a smooth ride. Normally, when we’re driving the tractor baler combos, you’re doing a lot of turning around looking at the pickup, especially in the fall, and that can be hard on my neck and back. But with two cameras and not riding a clutch all day, it sure helps keep me up and moving.”

Neal echoed the same sentiments: “Not creaking your neck back to look at that pickup all the time, making sure you’re not having issues. Instead, you just look up in the upper right-hand corner. The camera on the pickup is a game changer.”

For producers like Curt Clark, the zero-turn capabilities help him navigate irregularly shaped fields in Yale, Iowa, and put up hay where conventional balers can’t. “There’s a big gain in time because you’re in and out of corners a lot quicker. You can just get in there and get out.”

"This thing, you can run 500 - 600 bales and work for hours and not feel near as fatigued. All the automation in it, all you do is push a button and it just runs."
Clark has also noticed how the ZR5-1200 has helped in other areas, “I’d go and work hard with conventional balers all day and put up 300 – 500 bales and be shot. This thing, you can run 500 – 600 bales and work for hours and not feel near as fatigued. You’re not looking behind you, grabbing a clutch, a lever. All the automation in it, all you do is push a button and it just runs.”

The quarter-turn technology was a major selling point for Neal: “Operators can set those bales where they need them exactly.” He added, “We are not on flat, level ground here; we have elevation changes, and we are farming on sides of hills. The ability to kick the bale off in the direction you want it and, more importantly, make it easy for the operator to do so, that’s huge.”

Speaking of automation and technology, Neal said he was sold as soon as he talked through the in-cab automations and technology: “As soon as I saw it all, I didn’t even have to start the engine, I was sold as an owner.” Neal places a lot of value on the ability to make real-time adjustments based on the crop conditions. It allows him to have a clear picture of the of the hay quality and streamlines the sales process.

With its suite of onboard sensors to measure hay moisture and bale weight, Levi Downey is able to better manage his custom hay operation in Whitehall, Montana and show his customers that the bales he’s making are exactly what they need — consistent and high-quality bales.

“I think it’s an assurance of quality and peace of mind to know they’re paying on the right amount. Was my bale 1,200 pounds or 1,500 pounds? With the ZR5-1200, I don’t have to weigh any of the bales, there’s no guessing and no mistakes. We have the statistics because of the sensors on the machine. I just take a picture of the screen and send them an invoice electronically with the picture.”

On the farm: Getting more from labor and equipment

The availability of qualified, capable labor is a universal challenge in agriculture, especially for hay producers when the time window is tight. The combination of the speed of the ZR5-1200 in and out of the field and its overall automation helps cut down on labor and equipment costs compared to conventional balers, a major benefit on Clint Culliton’s operation in Buffalo, Wyoming.

“Rather than having two balers each hooked to the back of a tractor and knowing this machine can get as much done as those two balers can, I just eliminated the need for a hired hand. During haying and irrigation season, if I can eliminate an extra paycheck, that’s huge. Labor availability is tough too,” he said. “I’ve got tractors, but I don’t need six of them sitting around. I need a couple for bale processors and one for farming, that’s it.”

Clark’s operation has grown considerably in the recent year, and when he put pen to paper, he decided to purchase a ZR5-1200 to offset the cost of a conventional baler, which would have required him to purchase another tractor. He would have needed to hire another operator too, which lends itself to more challenges with labor shortages. However, with the ZR5-1200, he was able to reduce his work force from 6 to 3 and is able to make the machine payments without a tractor lease and additional labor costs.

Looking ahead, Downey sees how the ZR5-1200 will open up new doors for his forage and cattle operation in the future.

“I have had a self-propelled swather for a while, so I haven’t had as many tractors. I knew if I wanted to keep growing my operation, I was going to have to invest money in equipment and didn’t love the idea of doing so with a machine I wouldn’t use all the time,” Downey said. “The ZR5-1200 was a natural fit here because I was accustomed to self-propelled machinery and I didn’t want to add another tractor and have another payment to make.”

More new hay production frontiers

Neal has seen firsthand how the ZR5-1200 has opened up growth opportunities for his operation. “It’s going to allow me to continue to grow my own farming operation. I’ll be able to work fields that I’ve been wanting to get to that I’ve put off because I was limited with my previous machines,” he said.

"In order to put up as many bales as we can each year, we just have to adapt to the technology growth, and I have no problem with that."
Cuthrell has similar aspirations to grow his custom hay business, especially as demand for baled cornstalks grows in his area. But he recognizes that kind of growth will only come with his continued adoption of new technology and machines like the ZR5-1200.

“I feel like in today’s world, everything’s becoming more advanced, and in order to put up as many bales as we can each year, we just have to adapt to the technology growth, and I have no problem with that.”

To learn more about the ZR5-1200 and its innovative features, find your local dealer and request a demo.


Information noted above was gathered from a third party who was advised his/her experience might be featured in marketing materials. This article contains third-party observations, advice or experiences that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vermeer Corporation, its affiliates or its dealers. Individual results may vary based on care and operation of machine and crop and field conditions, which may adversely affect performance.
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