Dayton, Texas — In late July, I found myself poking at hay bales, seeing if my finger could press in a little ways in the middle of a round bale — but hardly any on the outer portions since it was wrapped so tight.

On a field day with the New Holland folks, I became more and more aware of the science of hay-making.

For example, bale weights can tell you where the best hay in the field is located.

“With our large square balers, we have the ability to actually record bale weights, and those bale weights can be applied through crop ID tags on the bale,” says Michael Cornman, dairy and livestock segment marketing manager for New Holland. “That information is actually recording realtime as the bale is being ejected from the baler,” he adds. The operator can then compare yield weights from the different fields on his farm.

With RFID tags, people can tell which field the bale came from, the time it was baled, bale weight and the moisture content.

I also saw a mower-conditioner with a wider conditioning roll system than on previous models. The resulting crop mat is thinner, which allows for faster and more uniform dry-down. And faster dry-down helps preserve hay quality.

The quality of the hay will never be any higher than when it is first cut, Cornman says. All of this helps the bottom line because the higher the forage quality, the less reliant producers are on protein additives.

It was an eye-opening — and, when standing in front of bales, finger-poking — experience. I saw a large square baler with sensors — kind of like the ones on your garage door that keep the door from coming down on your car, but much more sophisticated. They gauge the flow pattern of material coming into the machine and tell the operator to turn slightly one way or another to improve the quality of the bale.

I also got to ride in a tractor and it seemed the tractor could pretty much drive itself with all of the  sophisticated GPS and auto-guidance features. Yes, the tractor can be programmed to pretty much operate on its own, but there are instances — such as turning at the end of the row — when it’s good to have someone there. And, of course, someone needs to turn the equipment on.

“Technically speaking, I suppose (the tractors can drive themselves),” says Abe Hughes, vice president of New Holland North America. “Given all the precision land management technology — that’s our GPS system that we’ve now put into these tractors — the experience is very electronic and it is very autonomous, let’s put it that way.”

With “precision agriculture” becoming the norm, it all makes sense. (Please see the precision dairy article on pages 15-18 of this issue.)

I had to step back a moment and look at the big picture — of what technology is doing in all aspects of our lives. More and more, we are being exposed to the problems of increased computer technology and the lack of privacy that brings, especially with revelations of government-spying programs. Our cars can now track our every move, including brief forays over the speed limit.

But I have to say, while seeing the farm machinery being demonstrated, I was reminded — in a good way — just how important technology has become in the farm sector.