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New hay bale ensilage method turns heads

Contributing writer

They looked like giant marshmallows plopped down in rows, or water barrels lined up, but a second look revealed they were really just round bales of soybean hay wrapped in white plastic and set on end.

Several fields around Lehigh, Hillsboro, and Durham sported these notable white cylinders earlier this month, as local farmers chose to salvage failed soybean and milo crops and send the cuttings to Texas where it will be fed as silage.

Rollind Bartel of Hillsboro, a custom swather for nearly a decade, provided the connection between farmers looking to salvage failed crops and an acquaintance of his, Gordy Twerberg, of Cleburne, Texas.

“I used to go to Cleburne in the spring to swathe in front of a chopper,” Bartel said. “Over the years I’ve worked with Gordy several times to put up feed, and one year he came here to put up big square bales of milo stalks. This year I just called to see if he needed any hay. He had a new silage baler and had leased another. (He) said he would be right up. Texas is in great need of any kind of feed or hay.”

Twerberg worked in the Hillsboro area for two weeks and put more than 600 acres of Marion County crops into silage bales. His farm business is called Enger Farms, and together with his wife, Debbie, he provides Texas farmers with feed for their cattle.

“We add an inoculant and then wrap the bales completely in plastic,” Twerberg said. “Within seven days the feed has turned to silage and the dairy farmers getting it in Texas can take it right out of the bags and feed it.”

Twerberg said feed in Texas was almost nonexistent because of long-lasting drought conditions.

“We don’t usually have to go this far north to find feed,” he said. “But there just isn’t much available from here south.

In addition to buying up soybean and milo crops in Marion County, Enger farms also contracted several hundred acres in Butler County. Bartel confirmed that Enger Farms purchased failed milo and some milo stalks, in addition to soybean hay, with no harvest expense for the consigning crop owner.

Bartel, who does the swathing for this enterprise, is paid by the buyer. The crop owner gets an average of $40 per bale on soybean hay, and $30 per bale on milo. He said the baler used by Twerburg to put up the silage bales was made in Ireland. There are no balers like this currently made in the United States, Bartel said.

The machine wraps the bales completely in white plastic, locking in a preferred moisture content of approximately 35 percent. An attachment sets them on end as they come out of the baler, for easier pickup and removal from the field. The bales are moved with skid loaders and stacked two high on semitruck trailers.

“It’s an extremely tough choice for farmers right now,” Bartel said. “If there are pods on the soybeans there is a chance they might combine out OK, but for the most part Marion County has just been too dry and these bales don’t incur any additional expense for the producer. It’s a personal choice. A real tough choice.”

Ron Bartel of Hillsboro chose to put his leased soybean acreage into silage bales.

“There was nothing profitable about soybeans this year for me,” he said. “There were almost no pods on the plants in the fields we swathed and I got about two and half bales per acre. It came out more this way than if I had the expense to combine it.”

Ron Bartel is no stranger to making money with hay. He has operated a hay grinding business for close to 34 years.

“I never know for sure how it is going to come out,” he said. “But this could very likely be a better winter for me than I’ve had for awhile.”

Bartel explained in dry years, farmers are more concerned with saving what little feed is available.

“There is less waste with grinding,” he said. “So people will grind to save and make their feed last longer.”

Bartel grinds soybean hay, straw, corn stovers, and milo in addition to other hay sources. This is the first year, however, that he had an opportunity to produce silage bales with the Texas outfit.

“I liked it because I was guaranteed a flat rate per bale and there was no additional expense,” he said. “It’s been interesting to see what people had to say about it, too. Someone told me it looked like a field of angels guarding Lehigh, but I think I like the description of a space-age marshmallow man blowing up and landing in pieces on the fields.”

Last modified Sept. 29, 2011

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