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Vermeer Introduces First Self-Propelled Baler

A few years ago, Vermeer assigned a special engineering group within the company a simple assignment: Develop new machines that don’t currently exist in the marketplace. The first fruits of its efforts were introduced at the 2017 Husker Harvest Days farm show in the form of the ZR5 self-propelled round baler prototype – the first of its kind in the hay and forage industry – equipped with technology that offers unprecedented ride quality and maneuverability.

 Pulling expertise from the lawn care industry, the ZR5 features zero-radius turning in its steering system for better maneuverability and driving efficiency than seen in a conventional tractor-baler combination. Hydraulic drive on the baler drive, as well as the rear wheels, also provides you with the ability to automatically make real-time adjustments based on field, crop, and operator inputs.

“I firmly believe that someday we’ll look back and say, ‘I can’t believe that for that long, we drove our balers through a gearbox and that everything turned in the same correlation to each other, based on the PTO rpm,’ ” says Mark Core, Vermeer executive vice president. “Combines haven’t done that for years, and other harvesting equipment doesn’t do that. Yet, balers still operate that way.”

Hence, Core believes as the ZR5 is refined even more in the next few months or years, you will have the ability to adjust the baler to match different crops and different conditions. In the meantime, the ZR5 promises to increase productivity through greater comfort and efficiency.

“Our patent-pending suspension technology allows you to better handle the bumps and jostling that naturally come with baling hay,” says Josh Vrieze, Vermeer product manager. “If you think about all those bumps over the course of the day or multiple days, ride quality can really impact you. In the ZR5, you experience a smoother, more comfortable ride with the cab uniquely positioned over the suspension.

 “You can also spend less time turning in the field and more time baling. The zero-radius turning can eliminate skipping a windrow to make the turn or swinging out wide to get into the next windrow,” adds Vrieze. “When it’s time to head to the next field, zero-radius turning can be disengaged. If you've operated other self-propelled machines, you will appreciate the dual steering functionality. With the zero-turn disengaged, you steer the ZR5 using the front wheels for a smooth, confident ride.”

The prototype’s features aren’t just about ride quality and maneuverability. Automating the baling process was another goal for the ZR5. Integrated quarter-turn technology is part of the ZR5 baling automation process. During the tie cycle, the machine can automatically rotate to the left or right, positioning the bale parallel to the windrow upon ejection. When placing bales parallel to the windrow, the picking up process can be completed up to 35% faster.

 “Today, with the current tractor/baler combination, you have to go through up to nine steps to stop the tractor, wrap and dump the bale, and start again,” Core relates. “With this machine, you only have to push one button. The baler does everything automatically,” he adds, noting that the system works in much the same manner as the headland management system found on many new tractors. 

Simple machine maintenance is also another objective. In a matter of minutes, the bale chamber can be removed for maintenance. This helps ensure that you are optimizing productivity in the field. While the current ZR5 prototype forms a bale that is 5 feet wide and 6 feet in diameter, Core says it’s possible other sizes will be available in the future, particularly since 4×6-foot bales are popular with those who load them two wide on a semi for shipping.

 “There’s no doubt that the ZR5 will most appeal to large-acreage producers and custom operators who are currently running multiple machines,” Core continues. “Farmers and ranchers are facing one of the same challenges they did in 1971 when Gary Vermeer introduced the round baler: labor. As access to labor in rural areas becomes more limited, we believe the type of innovation needed to design the ZR5 will need to continue to pave the way for more efficiency, productivity, and an eventual reduction in labor needed to produce the same amount of feed. I’m happy to say Vermeer is proud to be making this investment in innovation and dedicated to leading the way.”

Vermeer plans to have the ZR5 in the hands of customers for testing in 2018. It will be available for purchase in 2019.

Watch the video below posted on Vermeer’s Facebook page to see the baler in action.

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