1 March 2002

MINIBALERSAGROWTHAREA

Having captured a big slice of the horse feed market,

mini round balers are now finding additional work in

conservation and amenity areas. Mike Williams reports

MOST of the mini round balers sold in the UK are used by farmers and contractors for making hay and high dry matter silage bales for the equine market. Few would argue against the fact it is the convenience factor that has made the mini bales such a hit in the stable yards.

Their small size and light weight means mini round bales do not need expensive handling equipment and they can be transported in the back of an estate car and moved about the yard on a wheelbarrow.

These benefits mean mini-baled hay and silage can often be sold at a premium price to cover the relatively slow work rate of the balers and the extra cost/tonne of the labour-intensive bale handling from field to store.

Although sales of mini round balers and wrappers expanded faster than many in the machinery trade had expected, there are signs that growth in the baled horse feed market has peaked, and baler owners seeking additional work to spread the cost of their machines are finding new opportunities in amenity and conservation areas.

Amenity work includes baling grass on verges and other areas where the local authority has reduced the mowing frequency. This can leave large amounts of cut material that can look unsightly and, in dry weather, may become a fire hazard in areas close to villages. Net-wrapped mini bales are a convenient way to collect this cut material for removal.

Richard Tomlin, of Lincs distributor DW Tomlin, says an increase in roadside verge baling is already helping one of his Miniroto baler customers to expand his contracting business.

"I dont think there will be a lot more growth in the use of mini balers for the equine market, but there are other niche markets which are only just developing," says Mr Tomlin.

"The amenity market is one of them, but I think there are also some interesting possibilities in conservation areas where they want to preserve traditional grasses and wild flowers."

A mini baler is also playing an important role in conservation work for North-East Lincs Council, where a baling policy has been introduced to improve the natural vegetation on 2.5ha (10 acres) of sand dunes near the coast at Cleethorpes. Mike Sleight, the councils ranger, points out that the dunes support a wide variety of plant species and are classified as an SSSI.

"The conservation policy is to delay mowing until most of the plants have flowered and shed their seeds," he explains. "This plays an important part in maintaining the natural plant population, but it leaves a large amount of cut material which has to be removed.

"We bought a Miniroto baler and a Kubota tractor after having a demonstration, and this seems to be an effective way to deal with the problem. It avoids using heavy equipment, and the bales are easy to handle."

Mr Sleight and his team have also used the baler on six small meadows which are also conservation areas where the plants are allowed to seed before being cut, and the baler is used in some of the councils countryside parks.

Some of the bales are used for feeding horses but, due to the dunes being used by people to walk their dogs on a daily basis, the baled material from this area is so badly contaminated that burning is considered to be the only way to dispose of them.

Allowing plants to flower and seed naturally before mowing is also an important part of English Natures conservation policy. Ben Le Bas, site manager for their Derbys nature reserve, says mini bales are a convenient way to deal with the cut material. He and his team have access to two CAEB mini balers owned by a local machinery co-operative and operated by a contractor.

"Natural reseeding is obviously an important part of conservation work but if the plants are mown after seeding it is usually necessary to remove the cut material," he explains. "Some of the most important conservation areas are on soils naturally low in nutrients and if the cut material is not removed it will have a mulching action, increasing the nutrient level in the soil and altering the plant population. Some of the bales contain harmful plants such as ragwort, and these are burnt, but the rest of the bales are sold for horse feed."

English Nature is only one of the organisations actively involved in conservation work, providing a growth market for mini baling, according to Mr Le Bas. This has become a major growth area, he says, and it provides excellent opportunities for farmers and contractors to find additional work for their mini balers. &#42

Above: With a low power requirement, lightweight tractors can be employed for mini baling. Below left: Wolvo mini balers and wrappers are now sold under the Wolagric brand name. Below right: The CAEB mini baler operated in the Peak District by English Nature is sometimes powered by a BCS pedestrian tractor unit.

Mini baler options

The first mini round balers were developed in the mid-1990s to work on small and often steep fields in the mountainous areas of Italy, and production is still dominated by Italian based manufacturers.

Most of the UK market is shared by three distributors, and these include Rekord Sales which imports the CAEB Mountain Press balers and also signed an agreement last month to add Wolagri balers and wrappers to their product list. Wolagri machines, previously available through Nutri-Mech, used to carry the Wolvo brand name but Tim Bass, the machinery manager for Rekord, says the change to Wolagri was prompted by a complaint from the Volvo car company that the similarity of the brand names could be confusing.

All models currently available in the UK have a fixed chamber and produce bales with a diameter between 50cm and 57cm (20in and 23in). Typical bale weights quoted by CAEB for the 55cm bales from their Mountain Press baler are 20-25kg for hay bales, 14-18kg for straw and 35-50kg for bales of silage. Tractor recommendations are 16hp for the CAEB baler, a 15hp minimum for the Wolagri and Gallignani machines, and 18hp is the power requirement specified for the Miniroto.