Plastic Offers Alternative Storage Options

9/7/2013 7:00 AM
By Philip Gruber Staff Writer

As silage cutting season begins, farmers will start looking for ways to store the feed that will not fit in their silos. For many farmers, the solution is a piece of specialized equipment and a whole lot of plastic wrap.

Sales of bag-packing machines and sales in general are up this year at St. Nazianz, Wis.-based Ag-Bag, according to Taylor Weisensel, the company’s sales manager.

Planting corn late, as farmers did in many parts of the country this year, will result in an increased availability of corn silage.

“It’s just automatic,” said Weisensel, whose company launched the silage bagging trend in the United States in the 1970s and is still almost synonymous with it.

“Guys will use more Ag-Bags” for corn silage this year, he said.

Ag-Bag uses wheeled conveyor machines to fill and pack the giant plastic bags that pop up every year across the countryside. Smaller baggers take chopped feed from a chute on the forage box, while high-capacity baggers can have the forage box dumped right into them.

Ag-Bags are designed to minimize feed losses, especially compared with feed bunkers, but Weisensel cautioned that Ag-Bags require care to work properly.

“Don’t stick it in the worst spot in the farm,” he said. The bag should be kept away from trees, and weeds should be cut before filling the bag. Vegetation can attract raccoons, rodents and birds that can eat the feed or tear the bag, which lets in oxygen and can spoil the feed.

Farmers also should use the correct size of bag for their operation. Dairies with fewer than 100 cows have lower feedout rates than large-scale operations, so they will fare better with the 9-foot bags instead of the 10-foot bags, he said.

Bale wrapping is a growing alternative to silos, bunkers and Ag-Bags. This process uses a machine to spin the bales and swaddle them in stretchy polyethylene sheeting. Some companies, such as Anderson, offer models with large hoops that the bales pass through. The bales can then be stored in a line like bagged silage.

Other bale wrappers have slightly less futuristic designs but a similar purpose.

Bale wrapping, long a European phenomenon, is finally starting to catch on in America, said Mark Mead, a salesman with Hamilton Equipment in Ephrata, Pa., who specializes in Tanco products.

“They’ve been wrapping far longer than we have,” he said. Carlow, Ireland-based Tanco is part of that European movement, although almost every major farm equipment manufacturer in the U.S. market has its own bale wrapper these days, too.

Mead has encountered growing interest in bale wrapping this year as farmers think about storing feed for winter.

“Things are starting to increase from the year prior,” he said. “I think they (farmers) want to maximize their benefits.”

Mead said wrapped bales can produce higher quality and more palatable haylage than silos or bags, and quality translates to greater milk production.

When a farmer wants to buy a bale wrapper, Mead looks at how many bales the farmer wants to make and whether the balage will be used on the farm or sold. Farmers harvesting large acreage should look for a machine that wraps tightly, he said.

Bale wrappers can be very easy to run, with only three or four buttons. Certain models can be mounted to a front-end loader. The turntable has support wheels, which prevent the center pin from wobbling and wearing.

Tanco bale wrappers range from $21,000 to $72,000, Mead said.

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