Why single-use plastic may have had its day

Everyone hates the sight of plastic in fields and hedgerows and knows the damage it can cause to livestock and wildlife.

This is one of several factors driving the use of preservatives for baled haylage, which in many situations can be used as an alternative to plastic wrap.

Andy Lee, our central counties manager, says some livestock and forage producers across his area have significantly cut the use of plastic on their farms. 

He says: “High moisture hay and some high dry matter haylage can be reliably made without any plastic wrap at moisture contents of up to 25%.”

Traditional, unwrapped, field-dried hay is baled at a typical moisture content of 15% or drier, and should be well preserved when this can be achieved. However, in many British summers, this low moisture target can be difficult to meet, and farmers often opt to make haylage instead.

“Haylage has a higher moisture content than hay and traditionally is wrapped in plastic, intended to prevent the entry of air and limit damage by yeasts and moulds,” he says. 

However, when the haylage has a high dry matter – or a moisture content of up to 25% – it can be treated with the preservative, BaleSafe, and remain completely stable when it is left unwrapped.

“This forage additive contains a mixture of human food-grade preservatives and organic acids which are proven to kill yeasts and moulds,” he says. “Using the product can be a game-changer when a crop is slow to dry or when rain is threatened, reducing the time required for the forage to remain on the field.”

A cost analysis has also shown that unwrapped bales preserved with BaleSafe are cheaper to produce than bales wrapped in plastic.

Using the latest figures from the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC), the average price to wrap a 1.2m round bale with six layers of wrap is £6.22, which, at a bale weight of 400kg, equates to £15.55 per tonne.

“Using BaleSafe as an alternative for bales of 15-20% moisture uses 4-5 litres of additive per tonne at the recommended application rate,” he says. “This equates to a maximum cost of £11.70/tonne, making the non-wrapped alternative a very competitive 25% cheaper
to produce.

“Obviously an applicator has to be used, which fits on to the baler, but this represents just a one-off cost,” he says.

Specialist grassland farmer

Nottinghamshire grassland farmer, Matt Blant (pictured above), who farms 400 acres at Swingate Farm in Strelley, admits to using ‘a phenomenal amount of plastic’ but says he’ll always avoid wrapping when he can.

He says: “Historically, we have aimed to make hay at 14-15% moisture but at anything higher than that you can start to have problems.”

Mr Blant has used BaleSafe and its predecessors for around eight years and says he now prefers to preserve grass like this and produce a slightly moister hay.

“It actually makes a better crop in my opinion and is good for all livestock including horses which are particularly susceptible to respiratory problems caused by dust,” he says. “These bales are completely dust free and I am also confident I won’t sell a bale that is likely to go mouldy.”

However, he says the biggest advantage of preserving hay with BaleSafe comes through improvements of operation, since hay can be baled earlier and in more difficult conditions. 

“Last summer we took a chance and cut 80 acres on one day with the promise of good weather to follow,” he says. “However, the forecast changed and storms were threatened, so we decided to bring the whole crop in on the same day. 

“My son, Seth, and I started baling early in the morning when the grass was registering a moisture content of 23%,” he says. “We turned the applicator on and applied the BaleSafe, reducing the application as the grass dried out, and cutting it off in the middle of the day.

“We continued into the evening and turned the applicator on again as the moisture went up. We got 900 big bales into the shed that day and can definitely say the BaleSafe saved that crop,” he says.

Furthermore, he says the lack of leaf shatter and dust made for better handling and a more palatable feed. And overall, he says the preservative has cut his plastic use across the farm by around 30%.

Wetter Forages

For forages whose moisture is over 25%, Kelvin Cave say that plastic is still required.

“BaleSafe can be used for wrapped haylage whose dry matter is from 50-75%, after which we would turn to another preservative to address the different challenge,” says Mr Lee. “For example, where soil and bacterial contamination are more likely in a wetter
forage, we’d recommend a product with a different range of ingredients to eliminate these spoilage bacteria.

“But in drier hay and haylage, our focus is on preventing aerobic spoilage by limiting the activity of yeasts and moulds,” he says (see table).

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