Hay Cap Man goes for quality twine
Phil Snowden is probably best known to many farmers as the inventor of the Hay Cap concept of protecting large square bales of hay from the elements.
He and wife Lynda farm at Tocumwal in the southern Riverina, mainly growing lucerne hay.
Both Phil and Lynda started out in farming doing dairy apprenticeships at Mittagong, south of Sydney and came to Tocumwal at the end of 1990 to what Phil describes as “at the time, the most reliable water in Australia”, to grow lucerne hay. They wanted to have an intensive cropping enterprise on a relatively small area.
The 325 acres that they bought had limited irrigation but no lucerne. They have grown the enterprise since then – 250 acres of the original block has been lasered, fitted with Padman fast flow irrigation outlets and a full recycle system. They have a 500 acre property up the road, featuring a centre pivot, and they lease 850 acres next door.
650 acres of lucerne, mostly irrigated, is the core of the business, plus they grow both dryland and irrigated wheat, and oaten hay. Phil also runs a contracting business.
The contracting side consists mainly of sowing crops; pastures for dairies and recently rice crops, as well as haymaking, but it is not a major focus of their enterprise. “We learnt early that we are best concentrating on our own work, rather than having to rely on contracting,” Phil explains.
They started making hay with small squares; “Before the drought we made up to 80,000 small squares a year, supplying lucerne and clover hay and straw bales to produce stores. As we built up the acreage we also made large squares.”
At the start of the drought they had no water allocation and the government suspended carryover entitlements - including water that they had bought for $150,000 – and which the government gave back eighteen months later. But due to supply restrictions the Snowdens couldn’t use it. So for three years there was no irrigated lucerne at all and they lost customers that they had been supplying for seventeen years.
Contracting job sparks idea
In the drought nearly all the hay baling was of failed cereal crops. In 2007 they had nothing on the farm high enough to cut for hay, so Phil went away contract baling cereal crops and it was there that he could test his new idea of the Hay Cap. His cropping customers had little storage, so he was able trial them extensively by hiring out the Hay Caps. This hay was carted back to dairy customers the following winter and everybody was surprised by the results of the Hay Caps.
The Hay Cap had also come from their own experience. In a good year the Snowdens had an extra 4000 to 5000 bales and there was no room in the shed. “We originally made stacks with big tarpaulins over them,” explained Phil, “but even with good quality tarps you wouldn’t get a second season out of them because of the wind and the rats, etc., wrestling with tarps on 2o foot high stacks on icy mornings ….” He trails off and shakes his head at the thought.
“We tried to make the initial prototype Hay Caps out of old tarps but we couldn’t get the concept to work. We now use recycled polyethylene. It is durable and fully UV-stabilised. We worked out how to get the edging done and have refined the system.”
Phil and Lynda say that there are now 600 farmers using the Hay caps here and they are being exported to the US, New Zealand and Italy.
“If they were all in use, they would be covering ¼ million bales of hay in Australia. Customers tell us that they can’t believe how well they work.”
Premium product is better
Phil started using Tapex’s ‘Premium Gold’ small square twine in 1991. “My theory is that if we bought cheaper twine and had to get out to fix it whilst baling, you lose about fifty bales of baling time, plus the one you’re fixing. It’s better to buy a premium product.”
“Now that the business is virtually all large squares bales we use Tapex Trojan twine and there’s no reason to change.” Phil explained, “We bale 850 to 900kg silage bales – you need good twine.
“We find that the Trojan twine is good quality twine that we don’t have any trouble with. It doesn’t wear the knotters out on the machine. Another contractor told us he was having problems, so we gave him some Trojan spools and it fixed his problem.”
Phil and Lynda have a John Deere 7920 IVT, which Phil describes as “a beautiful tractor for baling”, and a Massey Ferguson 187 4’ x 3’ large square baler. In lucerne hay the bales that they make are about 650kg, and between 2.4 and 2.5m long, the standard width of a truck. They do 95% of their own transport.
Better quality silage wrap
Last year was the first year that they did their own wrapping with a Tanco stationary wrapper. “The lucerne stubble is hard on the plastic, so we don’t wrap in the paddock.”
They use Triowrap silage film, also distributed in Australia by Tapex Pty Ltd, and Phil told us why; “We use their 30 micron film, and while it’s a fraction dearer, it is just better quality and there is less chance of damage.
“We tried a couple of different wraps, but we were getting a little bit of piercing and tearing– downtime is an absolute pain. We spoke to Darrell Butler at Tapex about getting the 30 micron wrap especially for the large square bales, as it gets pretty hot here.
“By individually wrapping, instead of tube wrapping, we deliver a far better quality product for our customers. The lucerne silage bales are like bricks, and we only make two metre bales so they can fit the wrapper.
Their silage customers are mainly dairy farmers in northern Victoria, and Phil said that they limit it to a 100km radius of home.
“We do 10,000 bales between hay and silage in a good year, since the drought. We aim for 3000 tonne of lucerne. In 2010 we made over 4000 bales of cereal hay.”
At the time of the year that we visited them – in late September - and in the autumn, Phil said that they go straight into cutting and wrapping lucerne. “If you’re doing silage, you have to make your mind up fairly quickly. You don’t want to make it too dry. In the summer months we can’t fit contracting in with the lucerne silage. Once you start you can’t get away to do anything else – we’ve got enough to do.”
They have three children, Tim (20) is a diesel apprentice with John Deere, Aimee (22) is in administration with an irrigation company and Bethany, 14, is in Year 8.
Phil has also developed a packing machine to put small squares into a large 3’x3’ bale; 14 to a pack. “It improves transport and quality through better packing and closer stacking but we are not commercialising the concept.”