Cutting balers back to size
Increasing growth in the
medium-size square bale
market has encouraged the
Big Bale Company South to
embark on a large square
baler conversion project.
Andy Moore reports
ON the face of it, converting a brand new baler to produce a different size of bale than it was designed to make might seem odd. But this is what Hants-based Big Bale Company South aims to do with MF large square balers.
"Over the last four years there has been a huge growth in the medium-size rectangular bale market with hauliers and producers demanding a compact and easily handled package," explains managing director Michael Coleman. "The 70cm high bale these machines now produce is particularly suitable for small-to-medium size producers who want to continue using existing bale handling and feeding machinery without upgrading to larger kit.
Started last year, the program involves converting or "cutting" new MF 185 and 187 balers to produce a bale 70cm (2ft 4in) high, instead of the factory-designed 85cm and 88cm (2ft 10 and 2ft 11in) heights.
Conversion is done at the companys base at Waltham Chase, near Southampton, and involves removing main bale chamber components, refabrication and then fitting them back in the baler.
"Because the baler chamber is reduced in size, very little extra steel is used and all the original parts are re-used," says Mr Coleman. "The most difficult part is achieving the new position for the bale chamber guides. This job takes about two days and involves lowering the top guide by 75mm, and raising the bottom one by the same amount."
In addition to the bale chamber, the plunger has to be cut and re-welded to the same measurements – a job taking eight days. Other conversion work includes removing and refitting components such as bale chamber compression rams, haydogs, internal wrappers and numerous guards and panels.
Baler feeder systems such as pickup/auger, packer fingers, plunger and knotter retain the same geometry and gearing, despite less volume of straw being required to fill a smaller chamber.
Local contractor, Vic Hill, based near Winchester, was the first user to test the cut MF 185 balers last year in wheat straw. "Due to the smaller bale chamber, the cut 185 baler was slightly slower in operation, producing about 100 less bales a day than the standard models 500 output," he claims.
"The main benefit was in the new bale size – the cut baler produced a compact high density bale which was easily handled by a conventional flat-eight handler. Bales were not weighed, but I reckon the cut 185 produced about four bales to the tonne."
With last year as the first trial season, Big Bale Company South loaned two cut 185 balers and a cut 187 to contractors around the country to test baling performance in different crop conditions.
"We received an enthusiast response from users of both machines and one contractor may consider a purchase," says Mr Coleman. "For the first two or three years we intend to gauge user opinion of the cut balers. If the project is successful, we will increase hire rates from the standard machine rate to cover the cost of the conversion work for the cut models."
Taking four weeks with a dedicated fabricator, plus additional labour for lifting operations, conversion work for the 185 baler costs £4000, while the 187 costs £4500. Out of these costs, steel accounts for about 10%, while labour and resources accounts for the remaining amount.
In terms of retail cost, the cut balers will be priced closely as possible to competitor machines which produce the equivalent 70cm high bale size.
"Having worked on 185 balers for four years, we know the balers are reliable machines and hopefully customers will value this higher than opting for a cheaper purpose-built competitor machine," he adds. "The 187 is still a new machine and it will have to prove itself to contractors or large growers on hire basis before they consider a purchase."
Big Bale Company South plans to have six cut 185 balers working for first cut silage in May, followed by an extra four machines for straw baling. *
A 75mm section is cut out from all the cross members of the plunger and the remaining halves are welded back together.
Back to the assembly line… The MF balers are striped of all main bale chamber components – which are then refabricated and repositioned back in the machine.
An example of a gutted bale chamber – the bottom guide will be cut out and repositioned 75mm higher.