Forage 2017: It’s a wrap–Bale wrap innovations work to solve ranchers’ problems
A trip to a landfill and observing the cattle near their school turned some Ontario, Canada students into innovators.
Ten students from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Russell, Ontario, southeast of Ottawa, have invented an edible bale wrap that can be eaten by cattle.
The Yay Bale wrap, as they call it, is made of corn fibers and can be left on the field or shredded and is safe for cattle to eat. The students have applied for a Canadian patent and are in discussions with a manufacturing company, having signed a non-disclosure agreement, so they can’t discuss all the details, but they are excited at the prospects.
Mrs. Ann Jackson’s students participated in a contest last year, the First Lego League Global Innovation Challenge, (FLL) an annual contest that encourages students to develop solutions to real world problems. Each year, the contest has a new theme; the 2016 theme was to “take something out of the garbage and give it another use or a different use,” said Jackson.
The students, who had visited a landfill and a plowing match, were sitting weaving corn stalks, after the match, when the idea came to them. None of the students live on a farm but several have grandparents who farm or used to farm, and they had seen the waste left by bale wrap. Someone came up with the idea, and they started researching and inventing.
The population of Russell, Ontario, is 2,000, and the area has a high production of Holstein dairy milk. “We see hay bales all around us,” said Rachel F., one of the students. “What do they do with the plastic wrap when they’re done? So we came up with the idea.”
Students knew the bale wrap had to do more than just keep the bale together. It also had to keep sun, snow and rain off. Students worked with local universities, developing bio-starches that would hold together and repel moisture.
The students’ research has continued, as they try to develop the wrap so it can be manufactured in large quantities. They realize that farmers will not buy new balers to fit the wrap; the wrap will have to be able to be used in present machinery. Making the wrap edible for cattle would presumably make it edible for other animals, including rodents and rabbits. The St. Thomas Aquinas School team has investigated those concerns, Jackson said, and “have a few ideas to get around rodent problems.” They have not field tested yet but have done some preliminary testing.
They won at the regional and provincial level, eventually being one of 20 finalists chosen from over 28,000 teams from 23 different countries to compete in Washington, D.C. in June of 2016. In D.C., they did not win, but that was okay. “This has been a whirlwind adventure by itself,” said Jackson.
The team of ten got to visit Parliament Hill (Ottawa’s provincial government headquarters), Washington, D.C. and meet influential people, including the Honorable Catherine McKenna, the minister of environmental and climate change in Canada.
Three PhD students in the United Kingdom have also invented an edible bale wrap.
According to an article in the June 15, 2016 Farmers Weekly, Nick Aristidou, Will Joyce and Stelios Chatzimichail, Imperial College London PhD students, came up with the wrap, which they call BioNet. Their invention was also in response to a contest, the Imperial College London Venture Catalyst Challenge, in which they reached the finals.
The three chemistry students are hoping to commercialize the product within the next three to five years, and they are also hoping to lace the plastic with nutrients or probiotics.
Regular bale wrap can be a problem if ingested by livestock. Farmers and ranchers cut it off and discard it, but if cattle ingest it, it doesn’t break down in the digestion progress and can cause blockage and reduce the animal’s intake, causing weight loss and possibly death.