Over the past few decades, plastic-wrapped hay bales have transitioned from cutting-edge to commonplace on farms throughout MFA territory. The practice reduces forage drying time, improves quality and protects the bale from weather damage.
Along with these advantages, however, comes a downside. Proper disposal of the plastic waste is a major problem. An estimated 1 billion pounds of agricultural plastic is used every year in the U.S. alone, but very little is recycled. Most is landfilled, buried or burned.
Thanks to a pilot project at MFA Co-op Association in Linn, Mo., local farmers now have a more environmentally responsible solution. A new baler that compresses agricultural plastic wrap was purchased and installed in mid-November, made possible by a $10,000 grant from the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District (MMSWMD). Proponents of the program had observed a similar project under way with dairy producers in Wisconsin, but this is the first of its kind in Missouri.
“We’ve seen a good spark of interest since we got the baler up and running,” said Michael Rost, manager of the MFA Linn facility. “There’s a lot of wrapped hay in this area, and we have tons of plastic that’s been lying around on farms just because there’s no place to take it. There’s a good chance of it ending up littering our fields and waterways. This is a better option.”
Plastic is plentiful on the dairy farm of Alfred Brandt, who milks 140 Holsteins south of Linn. He wraps anywhere from 600 to 1,500 bales of haylage each year and covers his drive-over silage pile with plastic as well.
With limited disposal options, he’s been burning all that waste plastic—until now. Brandt and his father, Don, delivered their first load to be recycled at MFA on Jan. 14. A month’s worth of plastic filled the back of their flatbed truck.
“There’s too much to put in a little dumpster, and nowhere else to recycle it,” Brandt said. “Anyone who feeds wrapped hay, no matter how good a job you do, the plastic tends to get everywhere if you don’t take care of it. So just having a place where somebody can do some good with it, that’s a benefit.”
After two months of operation, MFA has collected about 5 tons of plastic to be recycled, but Rost says he expects that to increase as the word spreads. Once 40,000 pounds of compressed bales have been accumulated at the Linn location, Revolution Recycling of Little Rock, Ark., will send a truck to collect it. The recycled material will be turned into plastic pipe for irrigation, benefiting farmers on the back end. While the Arkansas company will not pay MFA for the waste plastic, there will be no charge for picking it up.
“We won’t be making money on this project, but we’re happy to donate some labor to the cause and provide a base of operations to make it happen,” Rost said. “After all, it’s a benefit to our farmers.”
Osage County Commissioner John Glavin, who represents the county on the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste board, helped initiate the project in early 2019 along with Lelande Rehard, who was serving as the MMSWMD district manager at the time. Rost said the project was also supported by the Osage County Extension and Farm Bureau.
“This is a great example of collaboration to reach a shared goal,” said retired Extension Engagement Specialist John Gulick when the grant was approved. “If successful, hopefully the project will be replicated in many agricultural areas of the state.”
Before bringing in their waste plastic to be baled, producers are asked to place it in collection bags provided by Revolution Recycling. This will help officials accurately estimate future costs of similar projects. These waste collection bags are available at MFA in Linn.
However, Rost said that even if producers have not received those bags, MFA will accept any amount of agricultural plastic, even if it’s just a few bales worth.
Plastic bale wrap, silage/grain bags, silo covers, greenhouse film and drip tape are the primary recycling material that will be accepted. The cleaner the wrap, the more effective the process. Rost cautions farmers to make sure no net wrap or twine is mixed in with the plastic, or Revolution Recycling could cancel its participation.
“The key to making this work is having a place that farmers are already going,” Rost said. “They’ll be able to come here for feed or other supplies, and drop off their plastic at the same time. Someone will be here to help, so it should be a pain-free process.”
Rost is serving as project administrator and hopes that other locations will be identified to expand the recycling’s reach.
“It’s not limited to the Linn area. We’ll take plastic from any farmers who want to bring it here,” he said. “I know there will be some trial and error, but I think it’s definitely going to help the community.”
Producers who want to recycle agricultural plastic are asked to call ahead at 573-897-2157 to ensure MFA staff will be available to operate the baler. Rost requests that recycling only be delivered Monday through Friday because weekends are typically busier for the store.
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