Don McClain: No, but it is still very profitable if managed correctly. To put it into perspective, if you had 100 acres of baleable tree area, and baled straw worth $115,000.00 per baling, you can easily see where the cash flow justifies the process. While the initial capitalization consumes a lot the first baling, subsequent balings are considerably more profitable.
SN: What about different type trees? Are some better than others?
Don McClain: Yes. The most popular type straw is from the longleaf pine. The needles are brighter, due to a heavier waxy coating, and seem to last longer as a mulch. But, loblolly and slash are preferred by some landscapers because is pretty much stays as you place it and retains the same physical appearance, while longleaf tends to shrink and/or collapse. So I think these three types are all marketable, with longleaf maybe bringing a premium price.
SN: When is the season to harvest straw?
Don McClain: Prime baling is after the main needle drop in November. However, baling can be done 12 months of the year. The only limiting factor is moisture, as you don’t want to bale wet straw. It will make too heavy a bale and it could mold.
SN: What are some major concerns for the timber owner who wants to get into needle collection?
Don McClain: Some concerns would be pine needle testing to determine fertilizer needs, damage to trees from machinery (that’s where our small tractor and baler are beneficial), and trusting any business partners. I think I would contract per acre rather than per bale. That way you don’t have to count them. Remember, it’s helpful to the baling operator as well to keep the trees clean a healthy for better yields.
SN: You mentioned ‘too heavy a bale’. What do the round bales weigh and can the weight or size be varied?
Don McClain: I think the ideal weight is 40 pounds. Again, we’re thinking of the landscaper or a homeowner with a large landscape! After using the bales in my own landscape I am convinced that the landscaper will save 30-40% of his current labor costs in spreading the straw using bales.
Basically you just unroll it like a bale of hay, then position it to the preferred depth with a pitchfork. Some landscapers say that they will still regulate depth by hand, but it’s still faster than walking around dispensing from a 15-20 pound square bale by hand.
The bale dimensions are 20” diameter by 28” long. Those dimensions are static because it’s a ‘fixed chamber’ type baler. However, the density can be changed by varying the amount of pressure when you make the bale. The beauty of this is that you can set all the bales to be the same.
The market likes consistency. In pine straw, I guess you could vary from maybe 30 to 60 pounds in dry straw. I’ve baled some wet (and used it right away) that weighed 90 pounds! Didn’t enjoy that very much.
SN: Well, Don, what do you consider the biggest advantage and challenge in marketing this process?
Don McClain: The biggest advantage is showing the forest owner that he has money rotting on the ground. The challenge is communicating that fact to him.
SN: Don I’ve certainly enjoyed this interview. You seem to know a lot about pine straw and baling it.
Don McClain: I’ve enjoyed it too, Steve. But I don’t really know all that much. What little I know I’ve picked up from the pine straw balers and researchers like the ones you’ve put on your pine straw portion of your site. I’m just an equipment salesman. And I don’t care what they say, you don’t resemble Bryant Gumbal all that much. <br><br> SN: Huh?
Don McClain: He has more hair.
SN: Thanks, Don. Now I guess you’ll want to mention your site at http://www.agriquip.com And you ain’t got a whole lot of hair either.
Don McClain: Chow. See you on the board.