Agco Corp. celebrated a milestone on Thursday with the delivery of the 25,000th large square baler built at the Hesston, Kan. factory since the original Model 4800 was introduced by Hesston Corp. back in 1978.
The new owner of the latest model Hesston by Massey Ferguson 2170XD large square baler is Bill Levy, owner and CEO of Pacific Ag, the largest agricultural residue and hay harvesting business in the United States and a long-time user of Hesston balers.
Levy and his 11-year-old son, Jacob, took possession of the keys in a ceremonial presentation that honored the longstanding tradition of Hesston products in the hay and forage industry.
Dean Morrell, Agco product marketing manager for Hay and Forage, said 25,000 may not sound like an impressive number of machines for a 35-year history, but its significance becomes clearer when you consider the size of the market.
"When we started out, the market was about 100 units a year," he said. "Even today, the North American market is still only about 1,100 units a year."
And how much of that market share belongs to Agco?
"A significant amount," Morrell says with a grin. "It's fair to say the Hesston brand dominates the baler market."
Fifteen Agco employees were recognized at the event for their long history with the Hesston plant – 610 years of cumulative experience in engineering, parts procurement, field testing, welding, fabrication, shipping and paint. All 15 have been involved in some way with every aspect of big square balers from the first prototypes to the Hesston by Massey Ferguson 2170XD 4-foot x 3-foot baler delivered on Thursday.
Steve Koep, vice president, sales, for Agco North America said a lot of things have changed in the 30-year history of the large square baler, but many things today are very similar to the conditions that led to its creation back in 1978.
"Some of the same pressures are in the market today – fuel prices are at high levels, labor is in short supply and everybody wants a better way to harvest, store and transport hay. But a new factor has also been added and that is the demand for big square balers to harvest biomass for the product of fuel.
In fact, the new owner of the 25,000th large square baler said biofuels are a significant part of his business. He operates two locations in Kansas, two in California and two in Iowa in addition to his home region of Oregon and Washington.
In Kansas, he said, his locations are Hutchinson and Hugoton and much of the work being done in Hugoton is in harvesting and storing the inventory for the new Abengoa Biofuels cellulosic ethanol plant that is slated to go into operation before the end of this year.
As for his loyalty to Agco's Hesston balers: Levy said he hasn't changed his mind since an interview he did with Agco's corporate magazine publication back in 2001.
"I run Hesston because I can't afford downtime," he said.
Biomass is a growing market
Morrell said he is confident that the biomass market will be a dominant growth area in the coming years.
"First of all, there is the market for cellulosic ethanol," he said. "But the research people are already busy looking into other things you can do with biomass. There's a treatment out there now for corn stover that turns it into a cattle feed comparable to silage," he said.
"In Denmark, they burn wheat straw in the power plants. They have it all automated with bale testers and unloaders. They run 30 truckloads a day of big square bales of straw in those plants," he said.
He said the bigger the biomass boom gets, the more big square balers will be in demand. And that has a lot of people in Hesston smiling.