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Assirelli A., Pari L.

Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura
Unità di Ricerca per l’Ingegneria Agraria – CRA-ING
Via della Pascolare 16, Monterotondo (RM) - ITALIA

ABSTRACT: The baling of dried fibre sorghum introduces some specific problems due mostly to stalk development,
height and rigidity and to the volume of green biomass to process. To improve storage and to reduce transport cost,
the main aspect to consider is the achievement of a satisfactory natural drying of the plant on the ground. Previous
tests with mowers and mower-conditioners pointed out operational problems: the mowers, in relation to height and
rigidity of the stalks, showed low working capacity, while the mower-conditioners, both with rolls or spokes, were
not able to obtain a conditioning level good enough to achieve sufficient natural drying. The structure of the plant,
particularly of its stalk, is such that without a continuous cleavage along the whole length, water content decreases
slowlier than it would be suitable for harvesting period in Italy. Following these considerations, CRA-ING developed
a back mounted harvester prototype, connected to the rear three-point linkage of a reversible drive tractor. Such
equipment permits the cutting and conditioning of the whole plant, leaving it spread on the ground, without forming
windrows, so to make full use of the solar radiation for drying. When the water contents drops to the optimum value
for storing, the product can be collected in windrow and then baled with existing round balers or big balers. The
adopted conditioning system is formed by six couples of longitudinal rolls, similar to those used in corn harvesting,
because also the fibre sorghum is a row cultivation; each roll is provided with alternate blades and pads to press and
cleave all along the stalk while pulling down the plant. Rolls dimensions and rotational speed are such to hit the stalk
every 5 cm. Under the rolls, next to the ground, a saw cuts the plants. During the first year tests in Central Italy, the
idea was confirmed successful: it was possible, working at 5 km/h speed, corresponding to 1,5 ha/h effective working
capacity, to windrow and to bale the cut product after a drying time of only four days. The water content, in this pe-
riod, decreased from 70% to about 25%.
Furthermore, the tests showed that the prototype allows relevant money and time savings in the fibre sorghum chain.
Keywords: fibre sorghum, harvesting, energy crops, haymaking, mower-conditioner.

1 INTRODUCTION Harvesting fibre sorghum for combustion requires

transportation logistic demands from the production areas
Fibre sorghum is one of the most interesting species to the combustion areas, therefore the most drying ob-
for the production of lignocellulosic biomass. tainable on the field is an important aspect, also for the
This annual cultivation lets the involved farmer con- profitability of the cultivation itself.
vert part of his company into an energetic cultivation To this day, machines derived from haymaking or
production and draws him closer to the new sector with- from mower conditioners, hay rakes and balers have been
out having to use his own areas and without having to used for this purpose. Various Research Institutes [1], [2]
make considerable investments in a plant for 10 – 12 have carried out harvesting tests with machines for the
years, which on the contrary it is a must for long-term haymaking, considering the issues on the harvesting as
cultivations. The research projects that have inquired listed hereafter.
about the potentiality of this species (Prisca and Tisen) All the tested mower conditioners showed difficulty
have revealed a productivity of 20-25 t/ha d.m. in lands when sending the product to the other conditioning units
with an average fertility, with peaks up to 35 t/ha d.m. in and were subjected to floodings. Moreover, the condi-
fertile and well-irrigated lands. It also adapts well to the tioning was not always satisfactory as it extended the
droughty conditions of south of Italy, thanks to the ana- times required for the field drying process. That is to say
tomical structure of the stalk and to the remarkable pres- that the spongy pith with humidity near 90% must be put
ence of waxes on the leafs that help the plant overcome to contact with air in order to dry naturally.
drought periods, halting its growth and then resuming This can occur only if the conditioning does the
after the first rain. complete longitudinal splitting of the plant, which rarely
For all these reasons along with the common cane, occurs when using the conditioner’s rollers; these are de-
fibre sorghum is the herbaceous energetic cultivation of- signed to act on the forage, represented by plants with
fered in the basins that convey to thermal power stations, completely different morphological characteristics. The
in addition to the poplar on the north and eucalyptus on product that is mowed and conditioned must therefore be
the south of Italy. left on the field to allow for it to dry, which in Central
The only problem that has not yet allowed the Italy was an average period of five days in August and
spreading, is the lack of efficient harvesting systems. In eight days in September.
fact, fibre sorghum has a humidity of 75 – 80% when is
harvested, this must be decreased to over 50% in order to
help preserve the product for the whole year. According 2 APPLIED METHODOLOGY
to experiments carried out on previous years, a good stor-
ability of bales can already be reached with a humidity of Without conditioning, the outer layer of fibre sor-
30%. ghum stems also enables the loss of just a few humidity

percentage points per exposure day on the periods of ma- The machine is made up of single conditioner equip-
ximum efficiency of solar radiation (months of July- ments that operate on each row; they can be moved along
August), therefore an intensive conditioning is an impor- the frame when required so that to operate on the systems
tant aspect in order to reach a humidity content such that that are put in order between 0.45 and 0.75 m in width,
to enable harvesting and storability in acceptable times. with minimum shifting of 0.05 m.
Experiments carried out on the previous years have The prototype is made up of a main frame, a cutting
therefore determine the need to individualize a mechani- device, a power equipment and one conditioning equip-
cal system that is different from those adopted on the ment. The motion is provided by the tractor’s PTO and
mower conditioner machines that are currently been used the transmission motion is solely mechanical.
and that can provide the require conditioning of fibre The cutting device with width of 2.8 m, is made up of
sorghum. an alternated blade cutting system that operates at a
CRA-ING (The Council for Agricultural Research speed of 600 rpm with blades that are especially made for
and Experimentation – Research Unit for Agriculture difficult conditions (cleaning channels and lea), they are
Engineering) has therefore designed and made, within the screwed on a blade holder with specific bolts. The opera-
Bioenergy MiPAAF Project, an innovative prototype. tion is ensured by a slider-crank system with mass bal-
The head was designed with the a 3D CAD software ance and a main chain drive with interchangeable crowns
(thinkdesign think3) with specifications supported by that can vary the working system to meet with the work
calculations. This process looked after the planning of demands that are mostly influenced by characteristics of
single components in the perspective of meeting with the cultivation (height, bearing, development). Moreover,
current regulations on the safety of moving parts, trans- there is a system that adjusts the cutting height from the
mission elements, protection, the balancing and the ground and is used to reduce risks of ground contracts
breaking of cutting parts, etc. that can pollute the product.
The construction of the prototype was entrusted to a The entire cutting device is fixed onto a mobile con-
Company that constructs agricultural machines; the com- nection system on the frame, which adjusts the height
pany made what was planned along with the CRA-ING’s and depth and helps adapt the cutting to the various culti-
researchers. Therefore, the prototype was tested in vari- vation characteristics. The power device that feeds the
ous areas with cultivations of different morphological conditioning units is also separate for each row and trans-
characteristics that had an influence on the operativeness fers the plant from the cutting to the conditioner's rollers;
of the machine (height, shear diameter, lodging, the slope is made up of a set of toothed chains that operate me-
of the ground, etc). The tests were aimed at identifying chanically from the main drive.
possible functioning defects so that to identify the respec- Each conditioning device is made up of a set of
tive technical solutions to resolve the problems. counter-rotating rollers placed lengthwise compared to
Then, the performance of the prototype was evalu- the direction of the drive and fitted with blades and
ated by measuring the collection times according to the spacer bars (Figure 1) that can be adjusted by the radial
official methods of the Commission Internationale de direction on the rollers to determine the level of forceful-
l’Organisation Scientifique du Travail en Agriculture ness on the plant and hence the conditioning level.
(C.I.O.S.T.A.), according to the recommendation of the
Associazione Italiana di Genio Rurale (A.I.G.R.) 3A R1,
and according to the quality of the job carried out con-
sidered as the conditioning grade of the product.

2.1 Description of the technological innovation devel-

The machine, whose main dimensional features are
shown on table I, was taken to the back of a tractor that
was equipped with a reversible guide, it cuts the cultiva-
tion at the base and then conditions each single stem,
hence it conditions by compressing and splitting from the
base to the apex when the plant is still in vertical posi-
tion, just after being cut-off at the base.

Table I: Main characteristics of the developed prototype

conditioning devices (n) 6

working width (m) 2,7
row spacing (m) 0,45
transportation width (m) 3,14
length (m) 2,27
height (m) 1,58 (*)
mass (kg) 1.810

(*) Data taken with the machine positioned on the

Figure 1: Counter-rotating rollers with blades and spacer
ground and with adjustable supports in central position.


The rollers are counter-rotating, with a speed of 800 more, resulting in significant increase of ground losses
rpm in order to shift the plant to the ground, while it is due to uncut product.
been split with the blades every 70 mm and crushed with
the bars in intermediate position. Overall, the stem is Table II: Morphologic and productive characteristics
split and crushed, alternatively with an approximately
distance of 35 mm between each treated area. Bertinoro Apiro
(FC) (MC)
total area (ha) 4 3
test area (ha) 1,8 1,1
Mowing and conditioning tests were carried out in disposition flat hill
three distributional areas that were potentially involved mowing date. 11/09/07 24/09/07
with the cultivation positioned in two regions. The first
experiments were carried out in Emilia Romagna, in hay baling date 17/09/07 05/10/07
Pievequinta (FC) and Bertinoro (FC), then in Marche, in cut height (mm) 180 280
Apiro (MC) (Figure 2) and at last back in Emilia Ro- stalk diameter at 20 cm (mm) 32 26
magna, Province of Ravenna at the Experimental Agri-
cultural Company M. Marani. height (mm) 310 270
row spacing (mm) 450 180
nominal production (t/ha d.m.) 13,55 8,00
obtained product (t/ha d.m.) 11,10 5,92

3.2 Working times

Table III lists the times taken during the course of the
harvesting tests on the site.
As the testing objective was to measure the performance
of the site, independently from company's characteristics,
only the consumption times were taken.
As there was no dead times, setup times on the site or
standby times during the measurements, the operating
lifetime coincides with the consumption time from the
time required to turn in headland (TAV) and from the
ripening time due to flooding of the power equipment
Figure 2: Working prototype during the Apiro test (TAC) as the site did not have supply times (TAS).
The operative efficiency was a little higher than 74% in
3.1 The morphological and production characteristics of the plain of Forli and it came down to 70% on the hills of
the tested cultivations the Marches; the more uneven configuration of the allot-
The fibre sorghum cultivations that were tested were ment of Apiro (MC) and the inter-row of seeding less
in good phytosanitary condition and did not have any suitable for the use of the machine with reduction on the
infesting grasses. The average height and the diameter of working speed to ensure enough power of the mower
the plant stems were between 2.2 and 3.7 m., while the conditioner shall be emphasized.
diameters at 20 cm from the ground were between 20 and Operating at an effective speed of 1.72 m/s (6.19 km/h),
39 mm. Further information is shown on table II, divided the machine reached an effective working capacity
by testing area. The measurements concerning the height higher than 1.5 ha/h on the experiment in the Forli re-
and diameter of the stalks, expressed on average, were gion.
measured directly on the field during the harvesting. As the harvested production was 11.1 and 5.92 t/ha d.m.
The testing surfaces were always less than the total as respectively for the testing fields of Bertinoro (FC) and
various operative courses were often tested, including the Apiro (MC), the hourly operative production was respec-
harvest of fresh produce by cutting the cultivation di- tively 13.65 and 4.87 t d.m./h.
rectly using self-propelled forage harvesters.
Theoretical productions were obtained by harvesting Table III: Working times and operative capacities
directly on the field, on the testing areas of known sur-
faces, which were representative of the allotment, plant Bertinoro Apiro
cutting, drying process in an oven and the weighing. (FC) (MC)
The cutting height, different among the two allot-
ments is worth considering, as it is directly responsible effective time (%) 74,4 69,7
for the increase of non-harvest productions. On this first turning accessory time (%) 17,6 24,3
layout, the prototype did not enable a good cutting height maintenance accessory time (%) 6,0 6,0
control, so after several ground contacts mostly due to a
pitching phenomena of the tractor, it was decided to in- accessory time (%) 23,6 30,3
crease the cutting height to values, such that to eliminate operative time (%) 100,0 100,0
this type of unexpected occurrence; on the testing operative capacity (%) 73,1 64,5
grounds of Apiro, the disposition and the presence of
stones made it necessary to raise the cutting height even effective speed (m/s) 1,72 1,34

operative speed (m/s) 1,26 0,86 tion did no longer enabled for the significant reduction
effective work capacity (ha/h) 1,67 1,46 of the water content.
Checking the cutting height constitutes a very impor-
operative work capacity (ha/h) 1,17 0,74
tant aspect as it is directly linked with the quantitative
operative hourly productivity (t/h) 13,65 4,87 and quality aspects of the job carried out, the operator’s
optical monitoring in many cases was not enough to pre-
vent ground contacts of the cutting device or heights that
3.3 Work quality analysis
were too elevated, resulting in unavoidable losses of pro-
The first experiments carried out in the summer of
duce that could be harvested.
2007 have confirmed the validity of the conditioning
principle that was made, thus helping obtaining interest-
Table IV: Working devices operative parameters
ing results. On the first surveys taken in the middle of
September 2007 in Pievequinta (FC), under favourable
tractor PTO (rpm) 540
weather conditions, the cultivation was harvested only
four days after mowing, turning over the windrow with a mower (cut/min) 1268
rotary swather on the third day or after six days without feeding chains gear (rpm) 310
turning over (Bertinoro FC).
feeding chain speed (m/s) 1,62
The initial adjustments of the prototype summarized
on table IV, have revealed the need for further experi- conditioning rollers (rpm) 867
ments in order to enable a better integration between the stalk conditioning speed (m/s) 46,08
cutting system and the conditioning system. Moreover,
the latter has quickly revealed the need to adjust the ag- conditioning blades spacing (mm) 1,00
gressive level on the stems based on the cultivation conditioning bars spacing (mm) 2,00
growth and on the consistency of the stems, in order to
prevent the aggressive levels in any condition to be such
3.4 Fuel consumption
that it would cut the stems, hence making the harvest
With regard to the fuel consumption, we need to
more difficult with the baling machine and without get-
specify that we were not always able of use the same ma-
ting ground pollution.
chine on the tests carried out, therefore the data obtained
The treated plants show repeated splittings every 70
and summary on table V cannot be exclusively attributed
cm caused by the blades and had intermediate compres-
to the different power absorption due to the cultivation,
sions at the same distance caused by the conditioning
but also due to various tractors, especially with reference
bars, thus resulting conditioned more or less aggressive
to the testing field of Apiro (MC).
every 35 mm along the whole stem (Figure 3).
Table V: Fuel consumption analysis

Bertinoro Apiro
(FC) (MC)
John Fendt
tractor Deere Favorit
7700 924
engine power (kW) 125 169
harvested area (ha) 1,80 1,10
fuel consumption (l) 19,0 21,6
fuel consumption per hour (l/h) 12,95 15,99
fuel consumption per hectar (l/ha) 10,50 19,61
fuel consumption per tonne (l/t) 0,95 3,31
Figure 3: conditioned stalk
The various working conditions, characterized by the
If from one side turning over the windrow helps ac- disposition and configuration of the allotment and the
celerate the drying process even further, the probability condition of the cultivation, have set out very different
of ground pollution actually increases, risking the eleva- working times, and when they are calculated together
tion of the content in ashes, which is an important factor with the different driving power of the tractor used, they
for the following combustion. caused a significant difference (for the energetic factors)
The experiment carried out in the Province of Ra- on fuel consumption by the quantity of produce har-
venna in the month of October 2007, even if no favour- vested, hence increasing the values obtained over three
able meteorological conditions were verified for the fol- times on the two testing allotments.
lowing drying process, due to immediate and extended
rain phenomena from the night after the mowing, has in
any case, shown a further harvesting trial in late autumn 4 - CONCLUSIONS
conditions revealing how the greater drying level oc-
curred only with erect plants before mowing, once they On the first experimentation year (2007), the proto-
were cut down on the following surveys, the night hu- type for the mowing conditioning of fibre sorghum by
midity and the poor effectiveness of daytime solar radia- CRA-ING, confirmed the expectations about the validity


of the conditioning principle, providing good results on
the reachable conditioning level as well as on the obtain-
able work capacity.
The work capacities found have always exceeded one
hectare, with peaks higher than 1.5 ha/h. It was found
that there was a need for further development, especially
with regard to the control of the cutting height and the
aggressive level of the conditioning unit.
Important relations among the cultivation growth and
the humidity content at harvest and the behaviour and
effectiveness of the proposed conditioning system were
found on the experiments carried out.
On the contrary, the cutting device confirmed a high
efficiency and accuracy on the various work conditions
tested, even with stems that had basal diameters of near
40 mm.
The first experiments revealed some specificity on
the cultivation that suggest for further experimentations
in order to improve the functionality and integration be-
tween the cutting device and that of the conditioning.
Based on the obtained results of the experimentation
of 2007, the CRA-ING of Monterotondo (RM) has de-
signed a model with a greater operative capacity in order
to meet with the demands of constructors and operators
of the sector; the model is presented in a schematic form
on Figure 4.

Figure 4: CRA-ING model scheme


[1] Assirelli A.– Bentini M. – Zucchelli M.

L’importanza della raccolta per le colture da bio-
massa, L’Informatore Agrario (2006) 41, 117-123

[2] Pari L., Vannucci D.

Energy crops harvesting: Fibre sorghum, kenaf,
Arundo donax, Mischantus, Cynara Cardunculus, "7th
European Conference on Biomass for Energy and En-
vironmental, Agriculture and Industry", Firenze 5 - 9
October 1992