While driving through Pennsylvania farmland, you have probably noticed an increased amount of white plastic bundles stacked in lines or piles along farm buildings or edges of farm fields. Sometimes referred to as “marshmallows” or “long white tubes”, etc. these objects are increasing in farmer popularity and represent a changing trend in harvesting of farm livestock feeds.
The feeds stored in these units are of a high moisture quality, and would quickly mold and spoil within 48 hours if exposed to oxygen in the air. The air-tight capability of these plastics enable feed storage of wet hay bales, chopped hay silage, chopped corn silage, or high moisture corn grain for as long as two years. Silos have been doing the bulk of wet feed storage for nearly a century on some farms, but the new plastic technology offers some very palatable advantages to the livestock farmer. On the average, feeds stored in plastic ground cover are of a higher quality than their silo counterparts, due to plastic’s ability to eliminate 99% of the air leaking into the storage area. Silos are exposed to the full area of feed on top, and to cracks and door leaks in the areas between damaged staves on the sides of the silo unit. A few silo companies have reduced air input by producing glass lined, air sealed units such as Harvestore and Sealstore, but such units are quite expensive to purchase.
Today’s feed grade plastics offer sun-blocking technology, which can normally break down standard plastic covers in a few months’ time. Feed grade plastics can resist the sun’s rays for 12, 18, or 24 months, depending on the quality purchased.
One of the most recent additions to the farm feed storage is that of round bale wrap. Similar to common “shrink wrap” used in packaging goods worldwide, bale wrap is applied with a specialized piece of equipment called a “round bale wrapper”, and produces the marshmallows often seen in farm fields. In-line wrappers are now available as well, that can wrap one round bale after another into a continuous long line.
Round bale wrapping is an important breakthrough to farmers in the fact that baling is a lower power requirement than chopping as silage, and offers the quickest way to remove feed from a field and stay ahead of the rainy weather. Instead of waiting another day or two for hay to get dry, it can be baled wet, and then wrapped. The ability of feed to ferment quickly and properly inside of plastic wrap is superb, adding to the popularity of the system.
As with any new technologies, there are drawbacks as well. Feed is often stored a considerable distance from the buildings, typically due to the desire to limit clutter around the house and barn area, or because of the speed and convenience of wrapping feed next to the field it was harvested in. During Pennsylvania winters it is sometimes difficult to get to the feed, requiring the clearing of snow from farm access lanes just to reach the feed, and then daily hauling what is needed to feed the animals. Mud in thawing fields also provides an obstacle in spring-time.
Plastic disposal also can pose a problem. Plastic remnants do not rot down for years, and must be gathered carefully, or they will be left to blow in the wind to neighboring properties. Burning is not recommended, because of the toxic gases produced when the plastic is burned. The best present option is to the garbage truck and then landfill. However, as plastic usage increases it may become viable to recycle this plastic through a community collection system. Some Lancaster farms are now part of such a program, where the plastic is collected and baled into large, 1,000 pound square bales, and then trucked to a recycling plant in the southern United States that can recycle ag plastic into a number of other products.