Kings of the Hills: Baling Wheat Residue in the Palouse
-- Customer Story
The rolling and often steep hills in the Palouse, which stretch from southern Washington into western Idaho, are a sight to behold.
“You’re not going to find any country in the world that’s as steep, that pulls these kinds of yields,” says Byron Seney, a fourth-generation producer who primarily farms wheat on about 10,000 acres near Dayton, Wash. “It’s incredible the crops we can pull off of it when we’re not in a drought year.” He pauses and points up at a hill next to his farmyard and adds, “It’s just how to manage those hills so all that topsoil up there doesn’t end up down here.”
Part of that management means coming up with new ways to handle the higher amounts of straw generated by the new varieties, since new regulations have limited burning what remains. It’s good that markets for wheat straw have developed, giving producers a new revenue stream.
“Our 10-year average on the wheat ground has been about 100 bushels to the acre,” says Curtis Coombs, who along with his son-in-law Jason Lynch, farms about 7,000 acres near Waitsburg, Wash. “So, if you try to manage that type of residue, to put another crop back on it within a short period of like two months or so, you have to do something with that residue.”
Coombs and Lynch, as well as other producers such as Seney, have found a way to get unwanted residue off the field: They bale it and sell it. “We’ve worked very hard to create markets in the dairy industry, in the feedlots and all that,” explains Coombs. “It’s worked very well for us.”
Seney, Coombs and Lynch use a single-pass system with a baler connected directly to a combine via a conveyor belt. Not only will the bales then have less ash content, they also catch the wheat and chaff, which provides more nutritional value than wheat straw alone. They then can charge $50-plus per ton, vs. the $30 to $35 that straw baled off windrows on the ground brings.
Both operations have found customers relatively nearby at local dairies and feedlots. Plans are also in place for pulp companies to use wheat straw in production of paper products.
Lynch and Coombs purchased a Hesston® by Massey Ferguson 2270XD baler, and now produce between 16,000 and 20,000 bales a year. Pulling the baler with a combine, the two farmers note the conditions back among the chaff are brutal.
“Behind the combine,” explains Coombs, “with all the debris and all that environment there, and for it to—on 100-degree days or 105-degree days—just keep tying knots in that type of an environment is… it’s just amazing to me.” The 2270XD, he continues, “is able to maintain the [consistent] weights that we need to have.”
“To make a nice straw bale with [low] humidity,” adds Lynch, “is a huge challenge because the straw literally just blows apart. That 2270XD, I would go several days without a single knotter issue. I mean they’re just very low maintenance and very reliable.”
Both operations have also used Massey Ferguson® high-horsepower tractors. Coombs and Lynch run an MF8737, while Seney has used two MF8670 tractors. Both appreciate their fuel efficiency, as well as versatility and ability to run on the steep hills they farm.
Watch the video, and read more about these producers and their operations at https://www.myfarmlife.com/features/kings-of-the-hills-baling-wheat-residue-in-the-palouse/.