About 15 years ago, Leland Driggs was fed up with all the problems inherent in baling square bales — breakdowns, knotter issues and broken bales, leaf loss and constant readjustments.
“I could never understand why a piece of machinery would work part of the time and not the rest,” the hay grower says. “If it does something one time, it should be able to repeat that continually.”
He asked mechanics, dealers and equipment manufacturers for answers, but they were largely mystified. So Driggs looked for his own. “One of my daughters drove the tractor and I sat on the back of the baler all one summer, just watching and trying everything everybody recommended. None of it seemed to work, so I started trying different things.”
One was a self-adjusting material he lined his bale chamber with. That was the beginning of the BaleSkiis baler liner. The liner is an attachment for small and large square balers that's gained increased popularity with other growers but is still advertised as the “best-kept secret in the business.”
The BaleSkiis' self-adjusting plastic reduces friction, and its anti-springback design holds compressed hay in place when the plunger retracts so the hay doesn't move back and forth, breaking leaves.
“It puts pressure onto the full length of the bale so its density and uniformity are determined by the springback and the pressure of the full length of the bale chamber,” says Driggs.
Once he worked the bugs out, he took the liner to the Alberta Farm Machinery Research Centre for testing.
“I didn't want to make or sell something that I wasn't positive was doing what I thought it was doing. Balers are what we'd call fickle, and I thought, maybe it's working in our situation but it won't work in somebody else's,” he remembers.
The three days of testing showed that, compared to bales produced without the liner, the BaleSkiis' bales had less leaf loss and were of more-uniform length. Fewer bales were broken, there were no knotter problems and it also took less power to produce bales using the liner.
He couldn't find a company willing to make a machine that produced the anti-springback pattern, so he built the machinery himself. He now has computer-operated equipment to keep up with orders.
Driggs' marketing strategy has largely been word of mouth, yet he shipped more than 1,000 units last year. Growers all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as some in South America, South Africa, Europe, Finland, Alaska and Australia, have BaleSkiis.
It's a simple design that works — something some growers at first find hard to believe, he says.
“One fellow bought one and then, three years later, called me. He said, ‘I'm kind of embarrassed to tell you this, but I got it out of the package and thought, boy, did I get taken. I just threw it in my shop. But I had so much trouble with my baler this year, I thought I'd just give it a try. I want to order another one.’ ”
Other inventions are in the works, including a self-propelled bale picker that picks up, transports, stacks and feeds big square and round bales. But Driggs also has a 350-cow Red Angus herd to run. His wife, Faye, does the BaleSkiis paperwork while his daughter, Amy, handles its advertising and marketing needs.
Being able to produce the liner has been satisfying, Driggs adds. “It's a pleasure making something — particularly for the agriculture industry, which is always in financial straits.”
For more details, call 406-889-3846 or visit www.ldagmachinery.com.