‘This is big’

Published 11:11 pm Friday, December 2, 2011

Goshen man ‘revolutionizes’ hay farming

Mark Johnson doesn’t look much like a revolutionary but he is.

He is about to revolutionize the way hay is raked.

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That might not mean much to most folks but for a farmer in the hay field, it’s worth the time it takes to listen to what Johnson has to say.

Johnson of Goshen is a hay man with a mechanical mind. He, like so many before him, thought that there should be an easier and more economical way to rake hay. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was.

However, for about 28 years and counting, inventors, designers and tinkers had been trying to develop a farm implement that would rake and bale hay at the same time.

“When you rake hay, you have a man on a tractor doing the raking and another coming behind with the baler,” Johnson said. “It was just common sense that, if you could come up with one machine that would allow you to rake and bale, it would be more economical and more efficient. You would eliminate a tractor and an operator, a big time and cost savings, and, too, that operator could be doing other things that need to be done on the farm. A machine like that would change the way we do things in the hay field.”

The more Johnson thought about the idea the more he knew that he was “on to something.”

Others had tried and come close but nobody had a cigar.

Nobody until Johnson. Nobody until the FlexRake.

“The idea was simple but nobody had found a way to actually do it,” Johnson said.

He turned the idea over and over in his head. He formulated plans and reformulated them. And, then it was off to the drawing board and on to a prototype. And, it worked.

Johnson had designed an implement that would allow a farmer to rake and bale the hay with one tractor and one operator. It was a hay rake that could change the future.

Johnson displayed his FlexRake at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., in the fall and it generated a lot of interest.

How Johnson was able to do what others had tried to do for so long is what a patent is all about. The patent for Johnson’s FlexRake is pending but his hay rakes are in production at his modest machine shop in Goshen.

“The FlexRake is an improvement on existing farm technology,” said Mack Scott, a Pike County farmer who has been in the hay business for a long time. “I bought one of Mark’s hay rakes because I see the value of it. It saves time and money and both of those are high commodities on the farm.”

Scott said, on a big hay farm, a FlexRake will pay for itself in a year’s time.

“It can be used for round or square bales and it has up to 20 wheels and that will get the attention of farmers with big hay fields out in the Midwest, especially those with alfalfa hay because its light and can be worked with 20 wheels,” Scott said. “The FlexRake has the potential to revolutionize the way hay is raked.”

Johnson said the FlexRake is designed for use between the tractor and baler and eliminates the need for a second operator or tractor, which saves time, money, labor and wear of equipment.

“The proximity of baler to rake allows for more efficient bailing of the gathered hay product virtually eliminating waste,” Johnson said. “The rake is extremely efficient and, when it’s paired with a suitable baler, it will gather practically all of the cut hay for bailing in one pass. “And, since the hay is baled immediately after raking there is practically no loss of product to settling, wind or adverse weather.”

The drive shaft between the tractor and the baler is installed inside the frame of the rake. This allows for safer operation of the baler behind the rake, Johnson said.

“The rake has wings that come in and out hydraulically, for ease of use in precise hay gathering and the transport of the implement,” he said. “The wings ride up on the frame and out of the way when it’s in transport position. The ends of the wings are supported by gauge wheels while in operation which lessens the stress on the machine’s frame and wings while operating on uneven terrain. “As the name implies, the rake’s wings flex and move to maintain more consistent contact with the ground.”

An adjustable spring tension system on the wings allows the operator to set the machine’s rake spinners to rake lightly or more aggressively, according to the raking conditions or material, Johnson said.

“This allows for more efficient and gentle gathering of the hay product while also extending the operational life of the spinners.”

The FlexRake has hay deflectors, which are an innovation that no other hay rake on the market has.

“Hay deflectors are simple devices,” Johnson said.

“They are installed along the wings, in front of the rake spinner and keep the rakes cleaned out, prevent wrapping of the spinners and keep hay moving toward the baler. This keeps the operator from having to stop, get off the tractor and clean the spinners. That’s time lost and time is money in the hay field.”

The rake is compatible with any in-line baler, round or square.

“With the FlexRake there are no windrows so the tractor never has to straddle one,” Johnson said. “With all other hay operations straddling windrows is a problem in thick hay because the tractor’s underframe can get tangled with the hay in tall windrows.”

Scott said that hay is the largest crop in the world and farmers are always looking for more efficient way to do business.

“Mark’s hay rake will change the way that hay is raked,” he said.

“Any time you can do with one man and one machine what took two men and two machines to do, people are going to take notice. Mark has done what others have not been able to do. This is the beginning of something big and it started right here in Pike County and by a Pike County hay man. It’s going to put Goshen and Pike County on the map and I don’t think Mark will be able to handle the business in his small shop. This is big.”