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Large Square Baler Technology with Guest Jesse Santillan

16 Nov 2023  •  Tony Kramer

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Read the entire transcript from the latest episode.

Tony: Hi, I'm Tony Kramer, your host of the Agriculture Technology Podcast. And I'm sitting down with agriculture, technology, and equipment experts to help you enhance your operation for today, tomorrow, and in the future. In this episode, I sit down with Jesse Santillan about John Deere large square balers and the integrated technologies that come with that product line. With that, let's dive into the show. I am very excited to welcome Jesse onto the show. Jesse is joining us from our Northwest region, our Pacific Northwest, I should say. But reached out to Jesse, I wanted to talk to him a little bit about what they are doing in the Pacific Northwest with large square balers. So before we get started, Jesse, why don't you just take a minute, introduce yourself. Tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, where you came from, and how you got to where you are today.

Jesse: I am a product specialist here at the Othello location in the Northwest. Basically, I was born in here in Washington State, and I've been surrounded with ag my whole life. And pretty much I just really wanted to stay within the industry. So I went to school and got my electrical degree and ended up doing a couple things here and there. And I ended up here at the RDO store as a diesel mechanic. And eventually, I worked my way into the Precision role, and I've been here since. I've been with the company for around 2.5 years now. And yeah, I've just been working in the hay industry and anything really with technology here in Washington. So we pretty much do everything here.

Tony: Yeah, it's definitely a unique ag industry out there in the Pacific Northwest. The RDO agronomist out in your area, Erin Hightower, she's been on the show a couple times. She always teases me that here in the Midwest, we've got our corn in our soybeans, but you guys out in the Pacific Northwest, you have over 250 different types of different species of crops. So you guys have a unique agriculture kind of picture out there. So again, glad to have you on the show, Jesse. I really like the fact, and I did not know this prior to doing this, I did not know that you came from the diesel tech background. But we talk about technology and the advancements in agriculture, and those positions as diesel technicians, when you were a diesel tech, and the diesel techs that are still today working in our shops within the RDO organization, they're dealing with just as much technology as you are as a product specialist.

Jesse: Yeah, they are. Recently, we've been actually, I mean, there's a lot to do with technology. A lot of people think that it might just be, you know, guidance and rate controllers and stuff, but there's actually a lot more than people think. So it's actually really hard to get a grasp on where the future's going and where Deere wants to go and, you know, what we need to do to get there. But we've been trying our best to get the shop techs and everybody in the shop basically to get caught up and basically have a better understanding of where we're trying to go.

Tony: Oh yeah, I hear you there. The technology landscape and agriculture is not slowing down anytime soon. It is continuing to grow. And every year, every month, it seems like it's at a faster and faster pace as we continue to go. So keeping the diesel technicians and keeping everybody within the ag industry kind of up to speed. Whether it be us within the RDO organization or your local dealerships, to wherever you listeners are in the world, the landscape of agriculture technology is constantly changing, and I think that's one of the things that makes this industry so much fun. Now, let's dive into the show here, Jesse, talking balers, specifically John Deere large square balers. In recent years, well, I should say, in recent years, John Deere kind of dove into this market. And we'll talk a little bit about the introduction into the market and then what models we have to choose from within the John Deere lineup. But in recent years, very recent years, there's been a lot of integrated technologies that have been added. And we're really, we're gonna dive into that too. So to get started, Jesse, let's just talk a little bit about the models when John Deere came to market with the large square baler. If you hear us refer or say the term LSB, large square baler is what we're referring to. So let's just start out, you know, Jesse, when did John Deere dive into this market? What models did they offer, and kind of how did it grow from there?

Jesse: Deere got into the market in 2015 or so with the L330 and the L340. They just wanted to bring a competitive baler into the industry. Something more efficient and with more capacity. So they went ahead and, yeah, made an L330 and an L340. And then in 2018 they came out with the L331 and the L341, which was an updated and better-performance baler in 2018. And we've been running with those, and everything's been great. And some specific stuff I can give about the L331 is, so it makes a three-by-three-foot bale. And the width of that bale is usually, it's 32 inches in the width, and the height is 35 inches, and then it has an adjustable length of 24 inches to 118 inches. And it has four knotters instead of six knotters, like the L341. And then it has a pickup head of 86 inches. So it's pretty competitive. Most competitors have an 86-inch with a pickup head. And then to talk about the L341R, the difference there is, there's not a ton of differences, but they are better-performing differences. It makes a three-by-four-foot bale, and then instead of having that 32-inch width, it has a 46.5-inch width and a height of 35 inches. And then the adjustable length is the same. It's 24 inches up to 118 inches. And then it comes with an option of either having the 86, yeah, the 86-inch pickup head, or you can get a 97-inch pickup head, compared to the 86-inch option that only the L331 comes with. And then it has six knotters, and then it comes with Baler Assist. So those are the only differences there.

Tony: And when you mentioned the L330, 340, and then the L331, 341, you kind of mentioned it, but those numbers designate bale size and then series of baler, correct? So the 331 is a three-foot-by-three-foot in a one series baler. The 341 is a three-foot-by-four-foot in a one series baler. So if you did not know that, now you do. So I know they, again, we've been going on, like you said, since 2018, with the one series balers, or the 331 and 341. But now in 2023, John Deere recently released a new, not a new model, but some different specifications that go along with a new type of baler. Let's talk a little bit about that new baler that came in 2023.

Jesse: They released the L341 HD, which the HD stands for high density. So really, they added just a couple features that basically has the exact same dimensions as the L341R, but they added an extra cylinder and some reinforced side hoops for support with all the pressure. And then they made the chamber 18 inches longer. So the bales, you know, they weigh around 30% more, I wanna say. And it has the bale documentation technology, which updates in real time. And that's pretty much it. It is definitely a niche market for the L341 HD, but it is a great product.

Tony: Yeah, a couple things you mentioned there. Obviously, the high-density capabilities, you know, depending on what you're baling. Here, in the immediate Red River Valley, where I'm at, Minnesota, North Dakota, lot of LSBs, or large square balers, they're just utilizing them to bale straw. Wheat straw or small grain straw. You go elsewhere, where there's dairies, there's alfalfa, there's other types of baled crops, you get different, the growers want different densities of bales. They want different sizes of bales. And that's really where it comes in. And you mentioned Bale Doc, which we're gonna dive into that here when we get into the integrated technologies, but that's another component to getting this newer baler, this high-density L341 HD. So very cool. Again, back in 2015, Deere just kind of dove into this market, and we've been running with the one series balers, the 331s, 341s since 2018. So great balers. I've been around them here and there. Again, majority of what we're doing here in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, North Dakota is baling wheat straw, utilizing that for bedding and other types of compressed or shredded materials. So kind of unique for all the different uses of a large square baler. Now, with what you guys are doing in the Pacific Northwest, Jesse, you guys are obviously utilizing those more for foraged crops or baled crops, where a lot of this technology is gonna be more important. It's gonna mean more to the foraged crops than if you were just baling small grains residue or wheat straw. So let's dive in. In recent years, they've started integrating more and more technology, for many different reasons. And I want to talk a little bit or kind of dive into what these technologies are and what it means to growers.

Jesse: I'll go ahead and read off a list of a couple things here that I put together. So they added some moisture sensor scales and then obviously Baler Assist. So we'll go ahead and talk here about the moisture sensor. So it's pretty simple technology, but it has a lot of effect. So that moisture sensor, it measures moisture throughout the baling process, and it, you know, it allows you to make, it measures moisture between flake to flake, and then, also, it gives you your previous and current bale moisture as well. So just having that flake-to-flake moisture allows you to make, you know, specific decisions on continuing or, you know, if you need to move on to a different area in the field, whatever it may be. I mean, it's given you data that you can use to allow you to make a better decision other than not having it. And it's actually really simple to calibrate. You just go into the display, to the calibration page. It's gonna have a moisture sensor icon. You go ahead and tap in there. And then, usually, it takes around 5 to 10 minutes for the moisture sensor to heat up. It has to be at a certain working temperature before you can calibrate it. Once it heats up, you go ahead and put calibrate, and then let it run its process, and it's done. Super simple. And then you have to make sure that you don't have a belt in the chamber while you do the calibration because you will be reading the moisture of the bale instead of the ambient temperature. So really simple, but it's really effective. And then they went ahead and added scales. So same thing with the scales. It reads the weight of the flake. So each flake will have a weight. And then it also gives you your previous bale weight and then your current progression of the bale weight. And then it calibration's super easy as well. It makes you do three bales. Once your three bales are done, you would either take those bales on your Stinger, Harrowbed, any tractor that you use to operate to move the bales around. Take them to a scale house, go ahead and get your true weight, and then input that true weight into the display, and your calibration is done. And then the most important one is the Baler Assist, which people have really loved this feature. A lot of people that work in the hay industry know that it's really hard to unplug a machine when you plug something up. And then, obviously, sometimes you break shear bolts and whatever it may be. Always damaged parts when you get plugged. Well, the Baler Assist is, it has a hydraulic clutch, so when it senses pressure, the flywheel unattaches itself from the clutch, and it produces, or it basically allows the machine not to plug itself up even more than it already is. And the Baler Assist is a hydraulic feature that allows you to have control of the drive train, whether it's forward or reverse. And it has two speeds in each direction, and it has a maximum speed of, I think, four plunger strokes per minute. And essentially what it does is it allows you to have the option to hydraulically control the drive train to reverse the way that the pickup head is rotating to unplug itself on its own, without really having to use any hand labor. So less downtime and reduced time for, yeah, like maintenance, and then you just don't get plugged up anymore. So it's an awesome feature.

Tony: Yeah, there are a few things that you said that I wanna dive into. So going back to the moisture sensor and the scales. So this, and again, we don't have a lot of hay and forage in the immediate area where I'm at, but there's a correlation here between what they're doing, or what they are now able to do, with these large square balers and your typical combine, of measuring your yield and measuring your moisture. The hay and forage industry, it sounds like they're able to make educated decisions based off of this data, no different than a combine operator would make educated decisions off of his yield and moisture data. Is that correct there?

Jesse: Yeah, that's correct. A lot of times, out here in the Northwest, depending on the moisture and compression, with all that stuff, it can create a lot of heat in certain bales. I mean, you can catch your haystack on fire. You can get less value if you're, you know, if you have high moisture or not enough moisture. So they're literally able to make decisions at, you know, live time, basically. They're getting those data points specifically, you know, at a second. So yeah, they're getting a lot of benefits from it.

Tony: Yeah, that definitely sounds like beneficial technology for the customer. And the other one you talked about is the Baler Assist. And that one there just speaks volumes too. And if you're not familiar with how these balers operate, prior to Baler Assist, the only way to turn that baler, that plunger over, if I understand this correctly, was either engaging the PTO, or turning the flywheel by hand. That's the only way to do it, right?

Jesse: Correct. And that usually is a task in itself, and it takes up a lot of time. And then, not even to mention, the hardest part is you still have to pull all that stuff out of the housing in there. So yeah, it's tough work when you don't have Baler Assist.

Tony: And the other piece to that, too, Jesse, is obviously the safety. The safety that running that PTO, or trying to turn that over by hand, by adding Baler Assist, by adding the ability to hydraulically control that flywheel and the plunger and everything that's going on, is not only beneficial for the customer and just from a labor aspect, but also the safety. Being able to unplug a baler or run it backwards in a much safer manner. So yeah, lot of great benefits there in the Baler Assist as well. Now, one of the other things that isn't quite as big as some of the other technologies that have been added, but in the past, balers have always had their own separate bale track monitor, I believe is what they were called. That's not the case anymore, is it?

Jesse: So that used to be known as Bale Mobile. And now, as of this summer, this past summer, they changed it to Bale Documentation because all the data and everything is actually running through Operations Center now.

Tony: So we now have the ability to document the data, just like, again, going back to your commodity crops of corn and soybeans. The hay and forage customers now have the ability to document what they're doing with balers. Let's talk about Bale Doc, or Bale Documentation. Tell us a little bit about, you know, what it is, why would somebody want that technology, and how they're gonna utilize that technology to benefit their operation.

Jesse: Yeah, so Bale Doc got introduced to me two summers ago. So when it first came out it was, really, it didn't have many moving pieces, but the product was awesome. So you will actually need to have a receiver and then Gen 4 display and a modem. And most new tractors come with those already. If you don't, you can still have the opportunity to go ahead and get those things, and it would function just the same as a new tractor.

Tony: And when you say receiver and modem, everything you're referring to on the tractor, not the baler, correct?

Jesse: Correct, on the tractor for documentation purposes. Correct. Yep. So essentially you just need to have GPS speed to document, and, like I said, a Gen 4 display. You can use a 2630 as well. And pretty much what it allows you to do is you're able to document your maps, whether that's dry or wet yield. You have a moisture map. You have a map of getting, well, I guess I'll have to skip over that, but it gives you a couple maps to be able to make more decision making options for the following year. It helps you with input costs and, you know, if you need to irrigate more or irrigate less. So basically, all these data points that you're getting allows you to make better decisions for the following year on, you know, what you need to do to get a better yield.

Tony: You're exactly right. It gives you information. It gives you data points. Again, going back to the moisture sensors, adding the scales, everything like that. A hay and forage crop is no different than corn and soybeans or wheat or whatever you may be. The data being collected is obviously being used in some sort of a manner to make educated decisions.

Jesse: It basically just allows you to evaluate, you know, your season-to-season data, and yeah, it makes you make decisions on your yield and stuff like that. So it's definitely a great advantage, and it's definitely a technology that hay farmers are gonna wanna use just because, you know, it's hard to get ground nowadays. So you wanna be able to do the most with what you have, and technology allows that.

Tony: Absolutely. And the other thing you mentioned is that this is not a, it's not a separate program, it's not a separate software. This data, this information, is flowing into the John Deere Operations Center. Did I hear that correct?

Jesse: Yeah, that's correct. Yep. You have the decision of, you know, having it onboard, which is your Gen 4 on your command center or you know, off board where it gets uploaded to Operations Center, which you'll have forever. So whether you, you know, you have op center or not, you're still gonna have the data on your display. But I definitely recommend that if you do not have an Operations Center account, that you go ahead and make one because it's definitely gonna allow you to make great decisions for the coming years.

Tony: That's one of the, the awesome parts about the John Deere Operations Center. It's free. There is no cost to having an Operations Center account, being able to store your agronomic data and make educated decisions. So to hear that the Bale Documentation or the bale data is coming in to the Operations Center for hay and forage customers to make the same educated decisions that a corn and soybean and wheat customer can make, it's really awesome to hear that. That John Deere is continuing to push and promote the collection of data and utilizing that data the best way you can. and you said it, Jesse, that we're trying to do the... I mean, inputs continue to go up, and labor continues to be a hard thing to come by or find. And so what our customers need to do, what the farmers need to do, what, listeners, if you're on a farm, or you own a farm, work on a farm, whatever it may be, you gotta do the best you possibly can with what you have today. Because the technology's gonna make it easier as we continue to go forward, but the process isn't gonna get any easier when we talk about, you know, what's coming in the bottom dollar, what we're paying, or what our inputs are costing, things like that, so.

Jesse: Like we mentioned earlier, technology's just gonna keep moving forward. So I recommend that, you know, we start doing, you know, we start adopting it a lot more. Just because a lot of people think that technology is super scary, or they're scared to, you know, do the wrong thing, or anything along those lines, but in reality, technology is actually really simple once you understand it. And just having everything on one page or on one screen is actually really simple and allows you to maneuver through the app, you know, fairly easy. And it's very organized. So it helps a lot.

Tony: I couldn't agree with you more about the fear of the unknown when it comes to technology. It's something that is designed and should make your life easier, make your operation more efficient, more fluid. It's there to help you. Obviously, depending on the technological comfort level with who you are and what you do, it's a little bit different for everybody. But the technology is there to help you, not hurt you. So totally agree when you talk about the adoption. Now, with everything you've been doing, whether it be back when you were in the service shop, Jesse, or what you've been doing in your recent or your current role as product specialist, is there any sort of a success story you'd like to share with our listeners in regards to one of these large square balers or the integrated technology that's involved with them?

Jesse: We've had a lot of success stories, whether it's a demo or a customer-owned machine. But essentially, I mean, just the Baler Assist option is something that people have never seen. So just from getting, or allowing the people to understand how that works, and it's kind of mind blowing to them. And the downtime that they save is, you know, a lot. And not to mention that this baler is super efficient and has a lot more capacity, so it's able to, you know, go in high speeds and get a lot of production done. So we've had, yeah, we've had a ton of customers that have loved the L341 and the HD. But yeah, Deere has really released a great product, and it's just getting the market, or getting the farmers to, you know, get a chance to see the machine. And really, I mean, that's what it is. It's just getting it out there so people can see what a great product it is.

Tony: So if somebody wants to learn more, maybe they're curious, maybe they're interested in seeing a large square baler or something like that, where can our listeners go? Who can they talk to to learn more about these products and the technologies involved?

Jesse: You can get more information on Deere's website under Hay and Forage, or you can give your local RDO Precision team a phone call. Here in the Northwest, our hotline is 1-509-424-5026. So if you're here in the Northwest, or wherever you may be, if you wanna get more information on these balers, then give us a call, and we'll give you a hand.

Tony: Awesome. I just want to thank you, Jesse, for taking the time out of your day to sit down and chat with me about John Deere large square balers and the integrated technologies that come along with that product line. It's always interesting to hear how different products are used in different parts of the United States, and the world, for that matter. But you guys definitely have a strong hold with these LSBs out there in the Pacific Northwest. And I'm glad I got to sit down and chat with you about this.

Jesse: I appreciate it, Tony.

Tony: Please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast, if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we're streaming this out to, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Instagram, and X, formerly known as Twitter, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on X @RDOTonyK.
Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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