Solid Silage Production

Published on Wed, 02/10/2021 - 10:29am

Solid Silage Production.

 By Maura Keller

 Here’s one thing we know: The quality and consistency of bale wraps and balers play a vital role in farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to produce and maintain a high-quality silage production. Without a solid baling foundation in both equipment and wrap, the effort in balage production can be significantly hampered and may result in spoiled silage for years to come.

Historically Speaking
Bale wrapping started in the 1970s with simple rotating bale spears mounted on the back of a tractor. These bale wrappers would wrap only the round side of bales, and farmers would then place them into a long continuous row with each wrapped bale placed tightly against the other bales in the row to seal off the bale ends.

As Philip Kieser, sales representative at Goweil explains, after these simple bale spear wrappers were introduced, the industry saw the emergence of the stationary wrappers that were capable of wrapping all sides of the bale, thus being true individual bale wrappers.

“However, these wrappers still needed the bales to be loaded and unloaded by other equipment,” Kieser says. “In the 80s several companies then began to develop self-loading individual bale wrappers which gave farmers the ability to wrap bales directly in the field after baling.” The late 80s and early 90s also saw several manufacturers introduce a tube wrapper, which automated the process of wrapping bales in a continuous row.

Fast forward 30 years and Tucker Wedig, product specialist at Kuhn North America says that as today’s farmers look to increase productivity, they have transitioned to larger balers and silage production. As Wedig explains, today’s silage production produces a higher quality feed allowing producers to put higher rates of gain on cattle and get higher milk production out of their dairy herd, offering greater return on investment.

“Today’s advancement of wrappers has increased the flexibility of balage production, allowing producers to package high-quality feed before the next rain and leave that wrapped bale in the elements without losing feed quality,” Wedig says.

The first commercial wrapper from Kuhn’s Geldrop, Netherlands facility was released nearly 35 years ago in 1986. Since that time, wrappers have expanded, with the industry now offering stationary, pull-behind, and self-loading wrappers capable of wrapping both large square and round bales.

“As wrappers have evolved so has the film wrap they use,” Wedig says. “Advancements in film technology now allow us to stretch the plastic at a higher ratio, providing a tight seal and maximizing forage quality.”

Kuhn offers a full line of baler and wrapper products, including variable chamber round balers, fixed chamber round balers, large square balers, stationary wrappers, and pull-behind wrappers.

Chris Kerfeld, owner of Blue Lake Plastics says today’s producer has evolved as much as baling products have.

“With the increasing costs of storage buildings, farmer and ranchers have looked to most cost effective alternative, which is outside storage,” Kerfeld says. “That means using net wrap and or stretch film to protect the forage until it is needed.”

Blue Lake offers products for every type of baler and bale wrapper on the market. “Our brand has evolved over many years of experience both on our own farm and through our customers,” Kerfeld says. “We offer twine, net wrap, stretch film, silage bags and silage sheeting along with other products for forage production.”

Key Attributes of Balers & Wrappers
The attention paid to the quality of balers and wrappers is paramount. Just ask Jay Gunderson, founder of ShurWrap. As an Iowa farmer, Gunderson experienced firsthand the challenges of baling corn stalk biomass. As a result of his experience, ShurWrap came into existence and today the company offers a bale wrap that meets the unique needs of producers.

“We have used ShurWrap to wrap corn stalks, bean straw, oat straw, wheat straw, alfalfa, ditch hay and miscellaneous grasses. Our customers like how ShurWrap stretches tightly around the bales and cuts off cleanly to use for feeding livestock,” Gunderson says.

ShurWrap also offers ShurFilm for wrapping both round and square bales. ShurFilm is a seven-layer product that allows it to be successfully used in changing temperature environments throughout the wrapping season with minimal adjustments to the wrapping equipment being used.

“Locally customers have wrapped corn stalk bales, oat bales, millet as well as other crops in other areas of the Midwest,” Gunderson says. “ShurFilm has two different options allowing customers to pick a product that meets their individual needs. Feedback from our growing customer base has been very positive. ShurWrap rolls are lighter to handle than a lot of our competitors without sacrificing the strength and durability needed for handling bales multiple times.”

When looking at bale wrappers, ranchers and farmers should look for quality wrappers that are capable of providing proper pre-stretch and overlap of film onto their bales. According to Kieser, these are the most important aspects in a bale wrapper. Inconsistency in the stretching and layering of plastic onto the bale can lead to an inadequate seal, increasing the risk of oxygen entering the bale and causing forage losses.

“Farmers and ranchers can limit forage losses by using bale wrappers that are capable of providing this consistent stretching and layering of plastic onto bales regardless of their size, shape, or weight,” Kieser says.

Industry experts agree that farmers and ranchers should also consider their farm size and business operation when looking at bale wrappers. If thousands of bales need to be wrapped at a single location every year, then tube wrappers can be an efficient method.

“However, if smaller numbers of bales need to be wrapped in multiple locations, or moved between locations, then individual bale wrappers are the better option,” Kieser says. “If ranchers wish to sell their wrapped bales as a source of supplemental income, then individual bale wrappers are again the way to go.”

Goweil produces high-quality individual bale wrappers. All of Goweil’s wrappers are “satellite wrappers” which differ from table wrappers in that wrapping arms spin the wrap around the bale instead of the bale being spun against the plastic wrap. As Kieser explains, these satellite wrappers are able to provide increased stability in the field due to their lower center of gravity, since the wrapping motor sits above the bale instead of below the wrapping table. The bales also do not receive any centrifugal forces from a spinning table, further increasing bale stability. This increased stability translates to a consistent bale wrap and a perfectly sealed bale. In addition to trailed wrappers, Goweil also produces stationary bale wrappers with built-in motors that can be operated without a tractor attached.

“When helping customers choose the right product for their operation, it is important for us to first get to know how they operate their business,” Kieser says. “How many bales do they wrap per year? How do they store their bales? How do they feed out their bales? What does their storage location look like? It is also important to know what priorities the prospective customer may have.”

Large operators may prioritize speed and efficiency, so a fully automatic trailed bale wrapper may be their best option for wrapping a large number of bales quickly. Smaller farmers may wish to wrap bales back at their farm to limit the number of times they handle wrapped bales. This is where stationary wrappers with built-in motors shine, being the perfect fit for the one-man “wrap at the stack” operation.

When considering a baler for silage production, Wedig says the first thing to be aware of is whether a baler is silage capable. Not all balers are built to handle the heavier bale weights, which go along with silage production, or are equipped to handle the sticky silage crop which likes to stick to and wrap itself around components of the baler.
“Also, it is important to consider the other machinery on the farm,” Wedig says. “It is easy to produce a high moisture silage bale heavier than tractors or skid steers can safely handle.”

If an operator is looking to purchase a wrapper to preserve their high moisture feed, Wedig says it is important to take a good look at their entire feeding process, from the field all the way until that feed gets in the bunk. How are the silage bales being transported? Are they bales being wrapped in the same field they were baled in, or at the place of feed out, or storage? And if they want to transport bales before they are wrapped, can you do so in a short timeframe to preserve feed quality?

“Asking these questions can lead you to the wrapper which is best for your operation,” Wedig says. “Every farm or ranch is structured different, however, they all should look for the type of wrapper which allows them to wrap their feed within a three-hour window to preserve quality.”

Mistakes To Avoid
The most common mistake Kieser sees customers make when choosing bale wrappers is basing their decision solely on the price of the wrapper. Cheaper bale wrappers may provide upfront cost savings, however they bring with them increased risk of breakdown during the crucial harvest season.

“Not only do breakdowns cost money, but they cost the operator the most valuable asset of all—time. The longer a bale sits in the field unwrapped, the lower its feed quality will be,” Kieser says. “This is where high-quality wrappers make up for their higher initial price: in high-quality feed, reduced feed losses, as well as reduced maintenance costs.”

A common mistake Wedig sees is a customer taking a baler intended for dry hay and attempting to bale silage. It is necessary to always ensure your baler is equipped for silage operation to prevent wet crop from wrapping.  

“Also, when comparing silage balers make sure the baler is truly a silage baler with belts, scrappers, and rollers intended for silage, not just an add on silage kit. A baler with a feeding rotor or cutting rotor is also a good option for an operator looking to do a large amount of silage producing,” Wedig says.

In the case of wrappers, Wedig recommends running high-quality film wrap through your wrapper. In some cases, purchasing a low-quality wrap will tear more often creating issues for an operator and increasing downtime in the field. Investing in high-quality wrap prevents downtime in the field allowing the operator to wrap feed in a short window to preserve feed value. Also, higher quality film wrap can reach a higher stretch ratio, creating a better seal and keeping oxygen out of the ensiled feed.

“A mistake we see with overall bale wrapping is the belief that any crop which is not completely dry can be wrapped, this is not true,” Wedig says. To produce high quality silage bales you should ensile crop that is at least 40 percent moisture. Moisture levels below this will only cause the crop to spoil. Also, make sure to apply at least six layers of film to your bales to lock in the feed value.
Kerfeld also agrees that he commonly sees  producers focusing too much on cost of the product.

“When choosing a product look for consistency and reliability, along with good service,” Kerfeld says. “Blue Lake has spent many years in choosing quality manufacturers so that we are able to eliminate problems for our customers through good consistent products.”

Upcoming Innovations
In the future, increased farm machinery size will be one of the biggest drivers of innovation in silage baling and wrapping technology. The weight of high moisture silage bales has been a limiting factor on silage bale size, due to farm machinery’s limitation to move them. As Wedig explains, the average size of tractors and loaders continue to increase across the agriculture landscape.

Furthermore, there is an increase in the average farm’s ability to handle large silage bales. Although four-foot-wide silage bales are used by the vast majority of balage producers, the industry may see a trend towards five-foot-wide silage balers in the future.“Equipment manufacturers also are constantly improving their equipment and so the manufacturers of our products must also keep stride with those improvements,” Kerfeld says. “Blue Lake Plastics keeps close contact with our manufacturers to stay on top of any new technology or changes in the industry.”

The progress of intelligent baling and wrapping systems is also something to watch going forward. In fall 2020, Kuhn North America released the first intelligent baler on the market with the VB 7100. This baler uses integrated moisture sensors to adjust baling pressure based on crop moisture levels, optimizing the balers fuel consuming. In its wrapper lineup, Kuhn also offers the SW 4014, which uses an outload feature so the operator can focus on driving. Also, this wrapper uses an INTELLIWRAP system to ensure consistent film overlap.

ShurWrap has recently introduced AGROCROP, a new high-performance seven-layer agristretch film. The formulation of AGROCROP is designed to be used under all conditions and is suitable for all types of wrappers.

As Gunderson explains, the seven-layer technology as further improved film behavior. “The quality of the silage significantly depends on the bale airtightness. Essentially for high airtightness is the number of film layers on a bale,” Gunderson says. “Also the low production tolerances lead to a perfect uniformity of the film quality. Thus it prevents weak areas, where the film could break.”
In addition to attention on enhanced durability of bale wrap, over the last several years Kieser and others in the industry have begun to hear more questions from customers about the environmental sustainability of plastic bale wrap, and bale wrapping in general. Though this may seem like a difficult problem to solve due to the sheer amount of agricultural plastic used and disposed of on a yearly basis, the agricultural industry is already tackling the issue head on with new innovative ideas and processes.

“Most plastic manufacturers now offer fully recyclable plastic wrap, and many are also working on developing biodegradable agricultural plastic wrap as well,” Kieser says. “Though it may not always be easy for all farmers to recycle their agricultural plastic at the moment, it will be worth keeping an eye on these innovative products in the coming years which will continue the trend of environmental sustainability in the agricultural industry.”