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Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters with Guest Jason Artz

19 Oct 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 into the future. In this episode, I talk with Jason Artz about John Deere's Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters. With that, let's dive into the show.

Like I said, I'm here with Jason Artz to talk about John Deere Forage Harvesters. We are currently out in the field at a technology field day that we are putting on as RDO Equipment Company. A unique recording opportunity to talk forage harvesters. Before we get started, Jason, let me hear, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, some of your background and how you got to where you are today?

Jason: Thanks for having me. Like I said, my name is Jason Artz. Previous, before I took on this product position specialist for the Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters for RDO, I was a technician out of our Aberdeen location. I was there for 15 years. I supported Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters pretty much for all of Midwest Ag in RDO. I covered five states. I've even been in, I had the opportunity to go to our Southern California stores to help support them.

With my role as a technician, with building the relationship I had with our customers in the service end of it, RDO decided to take our self-propelled forage harvesting business to the next level. Now, we're pursuing the sales service and parts, and along with that, with the technology that we can offer with these machines.

Tony: You've been around forage harvesters for quite a while. You did the service technician role for quite a bit, so you've got a pretty robust knowledge with these self-propelled forage harvesters. Why don't we start, before we dive into the technology, let's just talk a little bit about the background of John Deere Forage Harvesters. I know we were talking before we hit the record button here. In the past, they offered a pull-type forage harvester. They've got a very robust line of self-propelled forage harvesters. Let's just give our listeners a little background on where the timeline of John Deere Forage Harvesters has been and where it's at today.

Jason: John Deere has been in the industry for over 50 years. We celebrated our 50th year last year with the Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters, starting out with our pull-types and then working into the self-propelled lineup. We no longer offer a self-propelled forage harvester through Deere. We feel that our self-propelled units are the best fit for our growers and our producers.

Our machines started out in the early years with our 5000 series machines. They were pretty much a pull-type with an engine at that time. Then we moved up into our 6000 series machines, our 7000 series machines, our 8000 series machines into our current models right now, our 9000 series machines. As we've changed over the years, technology's always growing. In order to keep up with that, Deere and RDO have been following suit.

Tony: Yes, that's a great brief overview, brief history. We continue to move forward with the self-propelled forage harvester lineup. I want to talk now, dive into some of the technology. There's a lot of operations throughout history that over time, we implement more and more technology. I know Forage Harvesters, the hay and forage industry as a whole has started to adopt more and more technology as we've gone through. The first one I want to touch on is our basic one. Back in the late 90s, early 2000s, our tractors, combines, things like that, got our auto-track functionality, got row scents in the combines. Let's just talk about that with forage harvesters having some of those same capabilities.

Jason: Our early 7000 series machines, that's really when we started with our auto-track system and when we developed some row scents. With our self-propelled forage harvesters back in them days, we really didn't need a display or a receiver in the machines to actually auto-track or row scents down the row. They used their own integrated steering system with the feeler gauges on the head, so more like a universal row scents on it. We moved into the mid to late 2000s. We got the technology going to where we introduced our GreenStar system into them.

Then we can start doing more AB lines, passes, adaptive curves, stuff like that with them. As that technology grows along with the repeatability and the accuracy of our receivers and stuff working with, it was brought in that row scents and auto-track or GPS together work a lot better so we can configure our machines different ways on how we can track down that field as we go pass by pass.

We can set it up under row or GPS or we can go row GPS or GPS row. Let's say you're going down a cornfield, you get to a wet area that was not planted, it's going to lock onto the GPS rather than your row scents. That follows suit all the way up to our current models right now. Our 8000s and 9000s do require a row scents activation and a display and a receiver integrated into it.

Tony: Yes, that's really neat to hear that the self-propelled Forage Harvesters has been utilizing, or they have been utilizing that row scents technology for quite a while. Now moving into the 8000s and 9000s series, 9000 being the latest, they're implementing more GreenStar technology, more pieces to the package. Which brings me to my next piece. This is really an important one. All throughout agriculture, we talk about data collection, we talk about using that data to make educated decisions. With Forage Harvesters, the biggest thing obviously, we're calculating tons.

How many tons of forage are we pumping out? How much feed are we producing off of that field? The other piece to that is quality of feed. We have the Harvest Lab 3000 sensor that for a number of years now has been mounted on that shoot, that spout going off into the trucks and the carts. Let's talk a little bit about the importance of the Harvest Lab 3000 sensor and why we utilize that and what we can do with the data collected off of that.

Jason: Our Harvest Lab 3000, it's not only just a moisture sensor helping to measure our tons and our throughput through the machine. We're taking light waves using our sensor on these, and we're sending over 3000 signals per second measuring this crop going through this spout. Not only can we do moisture with it, but we can also have a constituent sensing activation for this. It's an added-on activation to where we can do our dry matter, our starches, our sugars, NDF and our ash. We can actually see across the field where that is at. We can also take the same Harvest Lab 3000 out of season.

We can actually take it off the machine. We can put it in our scale house or our feed room or in our shop office, and we can actually put a tabletop system on this to where we can actually go right to our bunker, grab a sample, do an analysis on that bag of feed that you grabbed right out of your pile that day, and we can determine, working with our nutritionist, what our best feed ration is. To where a lot of times before, guys would have to take a sample, put it in a Ziploc bag, send it off to dairyland, four days, five days later, you get the data back, you talk with your nutritionist, then you make your best judgments on your feed rations.

Meanwhile, while you're doing that, you're continually taking out of your pile or your bunker or your silo, well, you're 10 feet, 15 foot into it, your rations have changed to where we can actually instantaneously use that. That's a huge benefit that we can use on that. With also this same sensor, we can actually use it for manure-sensing applications. We can put it on draglines or slurry wagons.

We can see how much nitrogen we're putting out in the field. We can actually control the output of it through speed and pressure. There is no flow meters or nothing at the current time or rate controllers, but we can actually do speed and pressure, and we can put it out there. We can use the data that we use to put it out in the field to where we can

go come spring for a second pass or application of nitrogen to variable rate then.

Tony: Yes, I know there's a lot of great solutions to utilizing the Harvest Lab 3000. I know you talk about, obviously, on the forage harvester shoots, we're getting the different measurements. You talk about putting it on manure spreaders to be able to monitor the amount of nitrogen and nutrients that we're putting out in the field. I know just recently John Deere introduced the package to be able to put it on combines as well. We're able to monitor or document the oil levels in certain crops and the starch levels in certain crops. It's a really cool addition to the amount of data that we can collect and start to make educated decisions off of. Now, I know in conjunction with that Harvest Lab 3000 sensor, John Deere's got some other technologies that work in conjunction with that. Let's talk to our listeners a little bit more about the auto-lock system that our forage harvesters have.

Jason: Our auto lock system, which is adjust the length of cut. When we're talking about length of cut, that's the size of crop we're actually putting through this machine. We can work in conjunction with our moisture sensor or our Harvest Lab 3000. We can set up parameters versus moisture high, moisture low, and a targeted moisture and determine on different lengths of cut. Let's say we have a dry matter of 45%.

We want to go a nine-millimeter length of cut or as our high and our low would be 25%. Then we go a longer length of cut to where we're targeted is at 35. We go a 12-millimeter length of cut. As that machine goes down the field, and we're taking them data points from the Harvest Lab, it'll automatically change the feed roll speed to get better quality out of the crop that you're chopping. It helps compaction in the bunker and higher quality of feed on the long run.

Tony: Yes. You bring up a really good point there, Jason. It's not just the feed coming off of the field and what we're feeding to the livestock, but it's also being able to put it into the bunker, properly store it, store it effectively and being able to utilize that feed over a long period of time. All of that comes into play when we talk about a good quality cut of forage and being able to utilize it over a season. Is there any other pieces that add into the John Deere solution and some of the technologies with our Harvest Lab and what we're doing today?

Jason: We can also utilize our additive dosage system on there so we can actually add our microorganisms directly into the crop as it's going through the machine to go onto the pile to help break down that and ferment that silage in the bunker or in the silo or wherever you have it. Together in conjunction, you can also set up your ounces per ton, ounces per hour, depending on whatever your preferred target is. As your moisture levels go up or down, we can actually variable rate that into the crop stream.

Tony: Now, we talked a lot about cutting that crop up or processing that forage and getting it into the truck, which brings me to the next piece. One of the really cool parts of the John Deere forage harvesters is the active fill system. Let's talk just briefly about active fill and how that can benefit an operator.

Jason: Yes, our active fill system, we use two-dimensional cameras, and it'll actually pick up the unit that you're chopping into, whether it's a wagon, a tandem truck or a semi. You can set it up for fill strategies. You can load it front to back, back to front or front to back to front. You can do your four-and-a-half fill percentages. If you have a side dump trailer, you want to blast to the outside wall, you can fill that higher.

What's really nice about our active fill strategy is when we open up or punch a hole through the center of the field to where we're blowing straight back out of the machine, it will actually see that trailer back there and keep that crop in that truck as it'll move the spout and the spout flap to keep that crop in the truck.

Tony: Yes, that's one of the cooler technologies I've seen on some John Deere equipment is the fact that it will move that spout around where it needs to based on where that truck is located and all of that and help you load that truck or trailer or cart, whatever you're doing. It's a really cool piece. Now, the last one I want to touch on, which I know is very important and very near and dear to us with the John Deere side of forage harvesters, but let's talk about kernel processors. I know we've got a couple different options, and when it comes to corn silage, I know the processing of the kernels is a very important piece. Let's talk a little bit about our different options that we have there.

Jason: Currently, right now, we have two different configurations for our kernel processors. We've got a John Deere premium KP, which is for our lower tonnage, lower horsepower machines. It's a John Deere kernel processor. We run about a nine and a half inch roll on them, and we run a 32% speed differential, or there's an optional 40% speed differential of the rolls. It's for probably our 8000 series machines more than our 9000 series. In our 9000 series machines that we require more horsepower, more tons per hour, more throughput for them, we offer a John Deere extreme KP.

It's got a 10-inch roll on it, or we just got introduced last fall, for the fall of 2022, we can order 11-inch KP rolls. We got more surface area for that processing to happen, more longevity of the rolls [unintelligible 00:16:57] run at a 50% speed differential on the rolls, and we use air-induced oil to lubricate our bearings on them, and we have a manual adjust on them, along with bearing temperature monitoring that we can monitor right through our display on them.

Tony: With all the years that you've been working with the Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters, I imagine you've come across some customers or some situations that have been really good success stories, whether it's a technology adopted, one of those technologies we talked about, a customer adopted that or maybe they were a competitive customer and now they're running a John Deere Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters. Would you like to share one of those success stories with us, just something that put a smile on your face and made you feel good at the end of the day?

Jason: One that really comes to mind, I had a grower that was running a Deere machine at the time, and you're in these machines all day long. You're running 10, 12-hour days in these things, and there's a lot going on. You're driving the machine, you're running the spout, there's trucks running everywhere. There's a lot of fatigue with running these machines. Integrating our technology in there, whether it's RoSense with the AutoSteer, running the active fill control, that takes a lot of the fatigue out of the operator at the time. What the grower really liked with the technology is how we can document all this stuff, and we can run it through their operation center.

We got the real-time data we can transfer in there. That helped him with his billing process. Before, he was just guessing on tonnage, he was guessing on what he had for throughput on it, what he was running for fuel per hour, things like that. That's how he was billing people, and he actually found out that he was hurting himself because he wasn't charging enough. He was actually doing more than what he actually thought. Over the two years, by having the technology, he figured he paid for all his new technology twice over. That's key on that.

Tony: Yes, that's a great reason to implement technology and a really awesome success story, talking from the customer's perspective to be able to continue to grow and thrive with their business of chopping forage out there and being able to properly bill the customers that they're chopping for. Great to hear how the integrated John Deere and GreenStar technology helped that grower continue to move forward, be more confident in the job that they're doing and the customers that they're working with.

Now, of course, one of the burning questions, Jason, is there's other forage harvesters out there on the market, obviously, but we as a John Deere dealership, of course, we want you to buy the green and yellow ones, the John Deere green and yellow ones. The question

I want to ask you, Jason, is what sets us apart from the competition? Is it the technology? Is it the quality of machine? What pieces would make a customer purchase a John Deere self-propelled Forage Harvester over the competition?

Jason: The top three, the technology and the way we can utilize our data come from the machine. They're user-friendly, everything's uniform. A lot of my growers have John Deere equipment, so everything can talk. They're familiar with all the display, how you can run through it. Everything's one entity. The other end of it is we've got customers that are competitors that actually run John Deere GreenStar System in their machines, whether it's an ATU or set up documentation using the third party to get into our operation center.

I think the most, the final one, the best one, I'm biased, but as being a technician for 15 years, whether it's a Krohn, New Holland, Claus, John Deere machine, they're all built to do the same thing on the end, where it comes down to is the service support and the use and ease of the machine. Silage shopping, running the silage shoppers, everybody thinks it's just like combine. No. Combining, you have a three-month window. Silage shopping, you have a two-week window. When these machines are down, these need to be up and going. Supporting them, it takes a lot of team effort all around. The more simplified way you can make things, the better it'll be for our grower and our customer.

Tony: Absolutely. That falls right in line with all of our other product lines. The downtime is what really hurts. Being able to have service support, being able to have that local dealership there to help you through the downtimes or when the machines need the help. If somebody wants to learn more about Forage Harvesters, they'd like to talk to someone or maybe go online and see something, where can they go? Who can they talk to?

Jason: You can go into RDO's website. We've got links in there to where you can go into our sales bulletins and stuff like that. You can reach out to any of your local John Deere dealerships for information on them. As we grow this, there'll be more and more people that'll have knowledge on these. A lot of our areas don't have the self-propelled forage harvesters in their area, but they're regional.

Right now, we're working on developing a strategy and a game plan. There'll be multiple people at multiple locations to support and suit your needs on that. Just contact your local sales department or service department, and we can connect you right with the individuals or questions you would need to have answered.

Tony: Jason, I just want to thank you for taking the time out here at our technology field days, getting the chance to talk to you. You guys got your hay and forage station set up out here. A lot of customers asking a lot of good questions. I wanted to take this opportunity to sit down and chat with you on what we have to offer through the John Deere Self-propelled Forage Harvesters. Thanks again for doing this.

Jason: Yes, thank you. Thanks for having me.

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. It's on 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. Finally, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Instagram and X or formerly known as Twitter and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on X, again, formerly known as Twitter, @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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