Guide to Selecting a Hay or Silage Contractor

Hay and silage have become a limited and valuable resource over the last couple of years and therefore, making a quality product is important, regardless if that is for your own on-farm use or to sell.  Consequently, if you need a contractor to make your hay or silage, getting the job done right has never been more important.

AFIA has produced, in consultation with our members, including several contractors, this guide to selecting a hay or silage contractor.  This guide is a handy checklist to run through with your preferred contractor to ensure you both understand what it is you are seeking to achieve from the relationship and what expectations you have for the end-product being produced.

According to Frank Mickan, Pasture and Fodder Conservation Specialist, there are three basic rules when dealing with silage and hay contractors; They are:

1. Communicate 2. Communicate and 3. Communicate.

The Basics

1.         Communication - how will you and the contractor communicate and work out together when the time and the crop is right?

2.         Communication between the grower and the contractor in relation to cutting, baling, ensiling or curing time should be confirmed at the start of the contract and decided in advance who will make the call.  Ultimately responsible for the outcome is best decided and understood in advance to avoid confusion/uncertainty.

3.         Experience - how many years has the contractor been involved in contracting?  Do you have any testimonials from previous customers?

4.         What types of crops has the contractor done before?  Do they have the right knowledge and experience for your crop?

5.         What is it that you are contracting for - can the contractor accommodate all your needs?

6.         How much other work does Contractor currently have on?  What are the contingency plans if there is a breakdown?  Can the contractor realistically fit in the work – can they be there when the crop is ready, or will they be busy somewhere else when the conditions are right?

7.         Dirt and rocks in bales should be discussed before contract starts.

8.         Is there enough twine, wrap or other consumables available to do the job?

Insurance

9.         Does your contractor have appropriate levels of insurance and cover?  Ask for a copy of their certificate of currency for their insurance policy.

Health & Safety

10.      Does the contractor have a good track record of managing health and safety in their business?

11.      Does the contractor have a health and safety policy that they adhere to and is this comprehensive enough to adequately take into consideration the type of work you are contracting for?

Machinery

12.      Machinery - what has the contractor got to do the job and do it well or is the contractor using some or all your machinery to do the job?  If it is your machinery, who is responsible for breakdowns/repairs and the costs involved?

13.      Any machinery coming onto the property must be free of weeds or other contaminants. 

14.      Cutting - is the contractor going to use a conditioner or not?  If a conditioner is to be used, stipulate the type of conditioner to be used for the work i.e. roller, double conditioner or flail.  This should be reflected in price.

15.      Is fuel included or not included in the contract price?

16.      Capacity with big square balers - if you have over 2000 tonnes in one line or batch you may need more than one baler, does the contractor have enough balers to do the job?

17.      A maximum of 15% of bales with 5 strings. All bales with four strings to be re-bailed.  Have you thought about this and discussed this with the contractor?

18.      Bale length of 8x4x3 bale should be approximately 2.25 metres in length. When a contractor is struggling to get minimum bale weights, he may make bales longer to get the weight which impacts the grower’s ability to load and stack them correctly/efficiently.

Cost

19.      Cost, is this based on a hectares/bale weights/number of bales/volumes?  If by weight, how, when and where are the weights going to be taken and what baler/type of bales are they making, and what is the average bale weight from this crop (e.g. oats/vetch/straw etc.)?

20.      Does the contractor have bale weight monitoring?

21.      Have you agreed how you resolve bale weight issues before the contract starts?

22.      It is worth remembering, if something seems cheap there is usually a reason for this.  Make sure you are contracting for and paying for the job to be done right and expect to pay a reasonable rate to achieve this.

Moisture

23.      Moisture monitoring needs to be done well and regularly – who is liable for baling/ensiling hay at too high/low moisture? The contractor?  What is the agreed maximum and what is the agreed minimum moisture?

This affects safety as bales cannot be stacked or transported when too much moisture - ideally 10% to 14% moisture for export bales and 12% to 16% moisture for domestic bales. Maximum 18% moisture for domestic bales.

24.      Grower is almost always in a hurry to get baling/silage completed.

High moisture hay or straw is very hard to sell; to the untrained eye, hay and straw can look cured, but it may not be. For example, barley straw is always contentious, it should always be given a few days at a minimum to dry out.

Have you agreed how you resolve moisture issues before the contract starts?

Stacking Hay

25.      Stacking in shed for 8x4x3 bales - 6 high rows minimum should be completed in a maximum of 48 hours or under 2 days is ideal.

26.      If bales won’t stack six high you know they’re not being made well, this should be in your contractor agreement. How will the stacking be done with a bale stacker or with loader and truck?  Bale stackers have a lot less impact on minimum till country.

Post Contract 

27.      Site to be left clean, soft bales to be re-baled and all baling twine to be picked up.

28.      If using your machines, have these been left in fair and reasonable condition (i.e. cleaned) and are they still in good, working order?

Contract & Payment Terms

29.      What are the Payment Terms for the contract?

30.      Has the contract been agreed and signed by all parties and do all parties have a copy?

31.      In the event of a dispute, how will you and the contractor resolve this (good idea to have a section in the contract for conflict resolution/disagreements)?

In providing services, information or advice the Australian Fodder Industry Association (AFIA) nor any of their officers, employees or agents shall be liable for any loss, damage or expense whatsoever sustained by any person or entity as a result of being provided such services, information or advice.

(AFIA Guide to Selecting a Hay or Silage Contractor (Version 4.1 February 2020)