Pictured Above: Blake Fuller, store manager of Krone Wisconsin, says the benefits of a baler wrapper combination are farmers don’t have to invest in a separate wrapper, it saves time and improves efficiency. Photo Courtesy of Krone Wisconsin

Dealers agree that the best way to a farmer’s heart is to solve an existing problem by pitching a good idea to them. This has been a particularly effective way of selling silage baling equipment.

One of the farmer’s problems with harvesting hay has been weather, an issue experienced uniformly across the country recently. “Mother Nature just doesn’t like dry hay these last few years,” says Larry Kruse, co-owner of Hammell Equipment in Eitzen, Minn.

Blake Fuller, store manager for Krone Wisconsin — Fox Valley Service and Sales in Kaukauna, Wis., echoes these sentiments. He says the past 2 years especially have been tough to make dry hay in his area. “If a farmer can’t make dry hay, baling silage allows them to still put up a crop. As long as they wrap it, it will ferment and make good feed for the cows,” Fuller says. “The guys who are feeding this like the results they’re seeing.”

Looking for Different Options

Kevin Belott sells Kuhn products at Swiderski Equipment in Antigo, Wis. He says that the balance challenges of weather, time and overall stress, are causing farmers to look for a new way to handle hay.

“Silage baling is a way of getting it put up and out of the way before the hay gets rained on, and hopefully before the product quality goes downhill,” Kruse notes. His dealership carries an entire line of silage baling products, from mower-conditioners to balers, rakes, wrappers and bale processors to grind the hay. The downside to baled silage is the aftermarket prices for the bales, he says. They are less desirable than dry hay right now, but that’s just because dry hay is harder to make.

Bigger farms and bigger storage needs have also led to an increase in silage baling. When a silo/bunker is full, many farmers try to bale and store dry hay, says Kruse. When they can’t because of weather, however, the trends show they have turned to silage bales.

“These bales will never go bad as long as something doesn’t puncture a hole in them…”

Chuck Walker, Belott’s Kuhn North America representative, says silage baling began in Europe, so it’s nothing new to the “old” world, he jokes. Fuller agrees, and says the Krone brand is still made in Germany, where much silage is put into bale form each season.

In the last 4 years silage baling has become a more common practice in this country. Belott states the obvious, that farming is different than it was 25 years ago, and involves factors more complex than an operation’s size. Grain markets, technology, data tracking and cost of production make tight margins a daily challenge. “Today, farmers have to be diversified,” he explains. “They have to make as much money off the product as they can. There is no room for loopholes. One little hiccup and a farmer goes backward.”

While farmers want a different option for hay, they also want their investment to cover many types of baling, Fuller explains. “The equipment has to be able to bale silage, but also wheat straw, bean stubble and corn stalks,” he says. “If there’s a shortage of alfalfa and feed prices go up, they still have to feed the animals and may be forced to bale those other crops.”

A Team Approach

The dealer’s approach to silage baling equipment must involve a team. Belott works hand-in-hand with Walker, and in turn, his customers. Walker says the dealers are the experts on their customers, and must have the ability to educate them but also genuinely hear and address any needs or concerns they are having.

Kruse says helping farmers get started is important in building a team approach, but also retaining customers for a lifetime and into the next generation. “There’s always something that has to be tweaked,” he explains. “Take the time and make sure everything is going the way the customer wants it to go, even if you disagree with how he’s doing it. Make sure the bales are pushing together, it is set up right and get him through the first time.”

The dealers say the best market for silage baling is the mid-size farm, which means something different in different areas of the country. Kruse says most of his customers are milking 200-400 cows, and have 50-200 head of steers. He has sold wrappers to farmers milking 1,200 cows as well as to those with 60 milking animals.

Belott says the goat farmers like silage bales, and he sees the practice often on those farms in Wisconsin. He agrees that the 1,000-cow dairies are less likely to use a baler for silage because they feed it out much faster than a smaller operation.

Kruse explains the tight window of opportunity for dry hay harvesting is a dealer’s prime promotional tool for silage baling equipment. “If it’s drying, farmers can cut one day, rake it, bale it, wrap it and they’re done,” he says. “Normally it would take 2-3 days longer for sure to do dry hay, and the last few years Mother Nature hasn’t been cooperating with us.”

Dry hay does best around 17% moisture, but getting it to that level isn’t as easy as saying the number out loud. Walker explains baled hay or grass silage remains consistent at the 45-55% moisture level, wrapped six to eight times at 60-70% stretch of full-blown (capable of stretching in any direction) wrap. “When you open up those bales, the livestock come running and your animals will think it’s Valentine’s Day every day,” he adds.

Thus, the last member of the silage baling team is a happy, high-producing or strong weight-gaining animal.

“The farmers feeding the silage are enjoying the production results, with both beef and dairy,” adds Fuller. “There is a high nutritional value in the silage.”

The Best Balers

Belott says the first thing that comes to his mind is making sure a baler is equipped to handle silage baling, as there are many on the market that can’t handle the higher moisture levels. He says continuous belts, textured drive rollers with cleaners on them and a rotor design are important. “Find out what kind of moisture your customer is looking at running, and make sure you get them set up with the right baler to begin with,” he advises other dealers. Kuhn offers an integral rotor on both round and square balers, which Belott says provides even flow, consistency in every bale from start to finish.

Kuhn Krause Wrapper

While a bale wrapper adds additional cost initially, the time and cost savings it provides does provide a return on investment. Farmers are able to get in the field sooner to bale and thus put up higher quality feed. Photo Courtesy of Swiderski Equipment Inc.

Many times, farmers baling silage like the slicer kits built directly into the machine, Kruse adds. Vermeer equipment, which he sells, has these built into the balers meant for silage, especially the 504 PRO and 404 PRO series. His silage baling business boomed after doing demo wrapping events for farmers. “We’d go out with a wrapper, charge a nominal fee and put up a row of 50 bales,” he says. “Most people thought it worked well and realized they were getting a benefit, and they moved forward from there.”

Fuller says the average price of a new round baler is $40,000 and a big square baler is upward of $100,000. He sells the entire Krone product line, but for silage baling, he says the hot items in Northeast Wisconsin are the 3 x 3 large square balers.

Silage Baling Basics

Forage professionals say there are pros and cons to silage baling. The benefits are mainly for small or part-time farmers, according to an article by Lester Vough, a forage crops extension specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

He says, “Some of the best quality silage ever made has come from round bales sealed in plastic,” but “on the other hand, some of the worst silage that I have ever seen likewise came from round bales in plastic.”

The procedures farmers follow during the baling process is what accounts for these discrepancies, and Vough writes that when proper techniques are followed, excellent silage can be produced.

He quotes these advantages to silage baling:

  • It substantially reduces the risk of weather damage to the forage compared with a hay system.
  • It provides flexibility as the baler can be used for both hay and silage. (A significant advantage of large round bales is the ease and simplicity with which they can be mechanically handled.)
  • The practice offers lower overall fixed and operating costs than other forage systems because it requires less specialized equipment and no storage structures.
  • Baling requires less energy than chopping.
  • Farmers see lower field losses than with round or square baled hay.
  • The system is easily expandable without a large investment.
  • Bales can be stored at higher moisture levels with less seepage loss.
  • Bales can be self-fed, eliminating the chore of daily feeding usually required with chopped forages.

Vough also cites the disadvantages to silage baling:

  • Maintaining airtight storage can be a problem.
  • There may be less or incomplete fermentation, resulting in higher pH, unstable silage.
  • There is a potential for greater storage losses than conventional silos or hay if an airtight seal is not maintained.
  • The cost of plastic bags or wrap must be considered.
  • Silage baling increases labor requirements compared to round baled hay.
  • Disposal of considerable amounts of plastic is a nuisance at best and may become a problem as environmental regulations evolve.

He says this practice requires attention to details, but is not complicated, and overall is a flexible option for hay preservation. He agrees with equipment dealers that the practice is increasing, especially on the smaller farms that cannot afford substantial investments in other storage structures.

Vough recommends farmers start slow to determine if silage baling will fit their individual operation. It is up to the dealers, then, to help their customers integrate this practice and be a trusted guide along the way. Only then will the neighbors see the benefit, see the dealership’s commitment to their customers’ success, and bring their business in your door.

He also sees good sales in the Krone Fortima and Comprima Series of round balers, in both 4 x 5 and 4 x 6 sizes. Fuller agrees that farmers like to have the knives engineered into the baler. “More than 90% of the balers I sell, round and square, will have some sort of cutting system,” Fuller explains. “It cuts the crop finer and farmers like this for a few different reasons; one being that it mixes faster in a TMR.”

They also like the elevator and slat design, which keeps more hay in the machine and eliminates belt slipping in wetter conditions. “This is where we’ve picked up some market share,” he explains. “I will give credit to the weather too.”

ROI for Wrappers

It’s no secret the wrapper is where extra expense comes in when baling silage, but Belott explains that, at the end of the day, wrapping provides a better, longer-lasting bale. “These bales will never go bad as long as something doesn’t puncture a hole in them,” he notes. “But one puncture wound can ruin the whole bale.”

He also says bales need to be wrapped within 2-3 hours after being ejected from the baler, with the number of wraps being a key component. “Use a high quality wrap at 6 layers minimum,” Belott advises dealers to tell customers. “Inexpensive wraps become more costly in the long run.”

While he admits the extra cost of the wrapper is a challenge to silage baling, he explains if a dealer helps a farmer figure out the time and cost saved over a period of time, the wrapper will definitely offer a return on investment. “They’re able to get in the field sooner and bale the hay, and put up a better quality of feed,” Belott explains.

Kruse says the wrappers have sold well for him, even the used ones. He sold seven new ones last year, and then seven traded machines. “So, there are seven more farmers that are wrapping,” he notes. In time, he says the wrapping market will get saturated, but individuals doing custom wrapping are making money, charging a fee per bale and per wrap. In a wet year, Kruse says these individuals make a pretty good living at it.

The wrap itself is the biggest issue in price fluctuation. It goes up every year and is always an investment, he says. The other issue is in disposal of the wrap. “There’s really no good way because there’s a lot of foreign material on it,” he says, explaining the wrap can’t be recycled for that reason. Burning it is illegal, so the landfills acquire the waste.

Still, he says if the customer needs the plastic, he wants to be the dealer with it on hand. It’s taken time at the dealership to figure out which product line is best, but now they’ve found one that is consistent and at a mid-range price point. “They have to buy it somewhere to make it work,” he says. “If you can keep up with it, they will come back to your door every year.”

Sealing the Deal

HTS Dealer Takeaways

Belott says he asks a lot of questions when meeting with a customer, to learn what their concerns are and consider a solution. Then, he puts them in touch with another customer who is already baling silage. “That’s the best sales tool you will ever have,” he notes. “We’re just a salesman trying to sell a piece of equipment, but farmers sell a lot of equipment for me.”

Fuller says most of the farmers he works with already have silage baling on their minds, and really want to look at upgrading their equipment to do a better job making silage, whether it be a baler with knives or going to a round baler with net wrap. Demonstrating the baler, the density it can achieve and the capacity it can handle are his best-selling points.

Kruse agrees, and says other than some paper and radio ads, word of mouth is the way to go to introduce any new technology or product. He also says listening to a customer, when they are complaining about dry hay harvest provides an edge in finding them a better solution. Kruse says the return on investment can only be what value they give their hay crop. “Because if it’s left out and rained on for several days, well the farmer doesn’t have a crop,” he explains. “The feed value is gone and some individuals just end up chopping it back in the field. If they can get it put up in this form, if silage baling will work for their operation, you save the crop.”

As a previous dairy and potato farmer himself, Belott says he understands everyone works differently. He also asks so many questions because he wants to make sure the equipment works for a customer before it’s used on a farm. “I don’t care about the sale; the number one thing in my book is the relationship,” he says. “I don’t sit in my office. I don’t go to a farm to sell a piece of equipment, I go to gather information, and if I sell something, that’s a bonus.”