The small square baler at Steve and Lisa Flack’s farm near North Manchester, IN, is up for sale. The couple will still be producing small squares, but those bales will instead be made from large square bales through a bale conversion system.

The system lets them take advantage of the increased demand for small squares while harvesting more-efficient large squares.

The Flacks started in the hay business in the mid-1990s making only small squares. Over the next several years, they added 3 x 3 x 8’ and 3 x 4 x 8’ balers to help package the alfalfa and alfalfa-orchardgrass hay they make on 600 acres.

Dairies and heifer-rearing operations in Indiana and neighboring states are their target markets for the large squares. For small squares, they focus on the horse-hay market locally and further afield in Florida, Texas and South Carolina.

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A demand spike for small squares, brought on by widespread drought in 2011, got the Flacks to think about increasing their small square bale production. “We had a lot of large squares in our inventory at the time, but we had to broker small squares from other growers to fill some of our orders,” explains Steve Flack.

The economics of adding small square harvesting equipment to increase production, however, didn’t add up. “We can be so much more efficient with the large squares,” says Flack. “When the weather window is there, and we’re able to go, we can do 200 acres per day. With the small squares, we’ll do 40-50 acres a day.”

A bale conversion system would let them harvest their hay faster and provide marketing flexibility, they decided. “We could put up all of our hay as large squares and then make the small squares with the quality product we already had stored in the barn. And we’d be able to have both markets.”

The Flacks bought their used system last November at an auction near Yankton, SD. “Getting it home was quite an undertaking. We sent a full crew up to dismantle it. It took two and a half semis to get it back here.”

They also built a 64 x 120’ warehouse and production facility to house the equipment. The total investment was “substantial,” Flack notes, but some upfront costs will be offset by labor savings long term.

Custom-making small square bales for other area growers who bale large squares is also part of their plan. With the conversion equipment running eight hours a day, they estimate they can produce and ship three semi-loads of 50- to 60-lbs small squares.

Based on this year’s hay prices, the couple is charging about $50/ton to resize bales. That works out to $1.38/small square. “We did some of it this year, although not as much as we had hoped,” says Flack. “It was our first year; we knew going into this that it would take some time to let people know about what we have and what we can do for them.”

To contact the Flacks, call 260-568-1585 or email steveflack@kconline.com.

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