8 June 2001


WITH gross margins under pressure in every sector of the industry, cost of production and improved enterprise output opportunities need to be scrutinised.

The production cost of bales for feed and bedding must be controlled.

On purely arable farms the chance to sell the straw off the field to increase revenue is available, particularly with the advent of straw burning power stations. The issue of baling and balers has come to the fore.

The range which exists within the categories of big round balers and big square balers is considerable. Round balers are based on a number of principles. These include:

&#8226 Variable bale chamber This system operates on a system of rollers and endless belts with a pivot arm that increases the size of the chamber as it fills with material.

&#8226 Fixed chamber A system of short belts supported by rollers that fit across the chambers full width.

&#8226 Fixed chamber with endless chain conveyer Pick-up feeds into a fixed chamber with an endless slatted chain running around the outside of the chamber enabling the bale to form.

In many cases the bale diameter and density can be varied to produce the specific bale required.

Big square balers operate on a principle of a rigid bale chamber that is packed with material via a plunger, the length of each bale can be varied.

Each baler regardless of its type comes available with an ever-expanding range of benefits and features. The design options are targeted at the following areas:

&#8226 Bale quality (size, density and uniformity).

&#8226 Machine output.

&#8226 Operator control.

&#8226 Preservation (wrapping and additive options).

Table 1 shows the specifications of the balers that have been compared in table 2.

The value of any bale is based on its quality at the point of use. Waste limitation is extremely important. A well-formed dense bale, whether it be round or square, will stack better and will limit the exposure of surface area to the elements, therefore, preserving as much of the bale as possible.

All of the balers shown are capable of baling hay, silage or straw and can therefore be considered for any system. The straw bales used in power stations weigh typically 500kg and are of very high density and measure 1.2m by 1.2m by 2.5m. Machines 5 and 6 are the only balers in this comparison capable of producing this kind of bale.

The higher the machine output the lower the cost per tonne of production. In the most extreme case the highest capacity big square baler bales a tonne of straw for £4.79 less than the standard big round baler.

There are, however, many other factors which need to be considered within this cost comparison. The cost/hour of operation of the big square balers is considerably higher than that of the round balers. It is only the higher output potential of the big square balers that makes them more cost effective as a machine.

On this basis, it is essential that the big square balers are kept working as long as possible and over the widest possible operating window. This undoubtedly makes the big square baler a true contractors machine. Providing work can be found across all crop types output can be kept to a maximum.

Where farmers have sufficient annual bale throughput to justify doing their own baling the baler must be synchronised to operate with the handling and material distribution system present on the farm. The available bale storage must also be assessed when selecting a baler. Whether bales are stored undercover or outside, wrapped or unwrapped, treated with additives or not, all influence the baling system as a whole.

Although the bales produced from all of the machines detailed can be plastic wrapped it is more common to wrap round bales than big square ones. Net wrap provides some protection to round straw bales and is now seen whereas twine is still the norm on big square bales.

As with all items of farm machinery, the baler should be assessed within the operating system as a whole. If a farm is of significant size and has the capability to handle and utilise big square bales the use of a contractor to produce them may be a good option.

Round balers and big square balers are machines designed for two different markets. Most farmers will not have to make the decision of purchasing either a big round baler or a big square baler but are more likely to decide on whether to produce their own big round bales with a lower output handling system or to use a contractor to produce the bale and invest in an extremely efficient material handling system to cope with them. &#42

Table 1: Baler specification

Baler 1 Baler 2 Baler 3 Baler 4 Baler 5 Baler 6

Baler type Round Round Round Square Square Square

Pickup width 1.85m 2.1m 2.1m 2.1m 2.1m 2.1m

Feed system Rake Rota Rota Rota Rota Rota

Rota reverse No No No No No Yes

CCTV Terminal No No Yes No No Yes

Pre-bale chamber No Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Flotation tyres N/A N/A N/A No Yes Yes

Bale ejector No Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Table 2: Baler comparisons

Big round baler specification Big square baler specification

Bale size Bale size

Type Rake feed Rota cut Rota cut Height (m) 0.5 0.70 0.70

Diameter (m) 1.25 1.25 1.25 Width (m) 0.8 1.20 1.20

Width (m) 1.20 1.20 1.20 Length (m) 2.4 3.00 3.00

Bale wt (kg) 250 250 250 Bale wt (kg) 250 300 350

Purchase price after discount (£) 12,000 14,000 16,000 34,000 45,000 51,000

Selling price after five years (£) 2500 3000 3500 6000 8000 10,000

Average value (£) 7250 8500 9750 20,000 26,500 30,500

Interest 7.50% (£) 544 638 731 1500 1988 2288

Depreciation five years 1900 2200 2500 5600 7400 8200

Insurance @ £10 per £1000 725 850 975 2000 2650 3050

Total annual fixed costs (£) 3169 3688 4206 9100 12,038 13,538

Hours worked a year 250 400 500 250 400 500

Fixed costs per hour (£) 12.68 9.22 8.41 36.40 30.09 27.08

Operating cost per hour (£)

Labour 9.00 9.00 9.00 9.00 9.00 9.00

Fuel 3.00 3.00 3.00 4.00 4.50 4.50

Spares and repairs as % of new price 3% 5% 7% 3% 5% 7%

Spares and repairs cost per hour (£) 1.44 1.75 2.24 4.08 5.63 7.14

Total operating cost per hour (£) 26.12 22.97 22.65 53.48 49.22 47.72

Tractor cost per hour (hired 6 weeks @ 350 a week) (£) 7.00 7.00 7.00 9.00 9.00 10.00

Total cost of operation per hour (£) 33.12 29.97 29.65 62.48 58.22 57.72

Output per hour (hectares of straw baled) 0.80 1.00 1.25 2.00 2.50 3.00

Output of straw per hour @ 3.5t/ha (t/hour) 2.80 3.50 4.38 7.00 8.75 10.50

Cost per tonne of straw baled (£) 11.88 8.56 6.78 8.93 6.65 5.50

Cost per bale 2.96 2.14 1.69 2.23 2.00 1.92

Bales per year 2800 5600 8750 7000 11,667 15,000