It is often said that inventions are borne out of people’s frustrations when the tools necessary to make their lives easier and more efficient are missing. That certainly is the case for those in the agriculture industry who must engage in constant, rigorous physical activity and so when a Canadian company called Marcrest Manufacturing invented an innovative machine for baling hay, called the Bale Baron, it’s no surprise it became an instant success.
To remain competitive, the equipment that a company manufactures must not only increase the efficiency of farming practices but withstand the demanding nature of the industry. Marcrest is dedicated to finding easier, more efficient ways for farmers to transport hay bales off their fields and out to the customer in a timely manner. More and more people are coming to realize the Bale Baron is the answer they have been seeking.
The owner of Marcrest Manufacturing is a man named Mark Horst, who lives on a 100-acre farm in Ethel, Ontario with his wife Lena. Prior to launching the company, Horst had worked in a manufacturing facility for 18 years but decided he would leave that world behind in 1998 and concentrate solely on his farm and ultimately making farm equipment. Having spent so many years in manufacturing he definitely has the necessary skills to spearhead the development of such high-end machinery.
During the early years on the farm Horst’s children were all still in school, so while they would help out in their spare time, the vast majority of the labour was done by Horst himself because moving 50-pound bales of hay isn’t a plausible job for kids. As a hay and straw broker, Horst frequently was tasked with loading of small square bales. After injuring his back numerous times while loading trailers of these bales, he became convinced that there must be an easier way of handling small bales.
“When I got married in 1986 I bought a small-mixed farm and have almost always been involved in design,” he recalls. “I always tell people that necessity is the mother of invention. When I left the manufacturing job I definitely concentrated more on farming and began growing hay for export and making small, square bales. For the export market you have to make them a decent weight so it is hard work and thought there had to be an easier way.”
Marcrest employs 20 people but remains very much a family affair for Horst, whose daughter Carol handles the company’s bookkeeping, advertising, scheduling, shipping and exporting and a number of other core responsibilities. Keith, who is Horst’s fifth oldest child, has an ownership stake and serves as Design Engineer. The assembly shop where the Bale Baron is made is right on Horst’s farm in Ethel with the welding shop just 15km to the north.
“We don’t do any of our own fabricating or machining,” Horst mentions. “Most of the painting is powder-coated, which is farmed out. We’re working with other local businesses. It works well for us because we’ve been able to expand with low capital investment but we do have to carry more inventory as we get bigger. We’ve been able to do it without any private investors and it gives others work to do here.”
Horst began working on his first Bale Baron prototype in the fall of 2003 with the first four years spent in a research and development stage and Marcrest producing one machine per year. Horst called his first two machines prototypes but by the time he was onto the third and fourth machines, customers had heard through the rumour mill about what his company was doing and immediately stepped forward saying they wanted to purchase one. Marcrest’s first year of actual production was 2007.
It was very early in the development phase when Horst realized he was on to something potentially very big. The first sign was that local hay growers became immediately excited about the concept and were willing to take the risk of purchasing an untried product. Secondly, having a professionally designed website with high quality videos of how the Bale Baron works resulted in a number of people buying Bale Barons without ever seeing one in person. Thirdly, end-users of hay began demanding hay be in bundles packed by the Bale Baron. Thus growers were forced to change their operation. Lastly, the high cost of manual labour and the headache of hiring good workers had farmers looking for an alternative which was found in the Bale Baron.
“About a year before going into production is when I created my website and started showing people what we were doing. In the fall of 2006 was also the first time we went to Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ontario,” Horst says.
Many attendees at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ontario walked up to the Marcrest exhibit wanting to know what this fancy new piece of machinery could do.
“A lot of the older guys would come up and say ‘where were you 20 years ago when I was throwing bales around?’” Horst laughs.
The Bale Baron
There are currently three models of the Bale Baron in production. The company’s initial machine is known as the 4240T and pulls behind a baler. The second Bale Baron is the 4240P, which picks up off the field while the third and newest member of the family is a self-propelled pick-up model (6240SP). There is also a product called the Power Linx that was first introduced in 2014. It is a dual power hitch that allows for producing twice as many bales with just one tractor, which saves on labour and equipment costs. The Power Linx takes the PTO power from one tractor and splits it in two, thus operating two balers at once getting the farmer out of the field in half the time. The self-propelled model of the Bale Baron stands to be very popular and is an exceptionally impressive piece of agricultural machinery.
“To be honest, we just wanted to make one,” Horst candidly states when asked how the 6240SP became part of the lineup. “We like making new things and decided we wanted to make one that was self-propelled. It’s generated a lot of interest and we’re getting orders for them.”
Marcrest spent two years developing the self-propelled 6240SP prototype and this past year they moved into production, selling the prototype and three additional units. As of now they’ve already got five more on order for 2016.
The self-propelled Bale Baron easily transitions from the field to the paved roadway and vice versa, reaching up to 12mph in the field and it can hit a top speed of 30mph on the road with its 173HP engine. The Bale Baron efficiently picks up small bales and neatly packs them, saving a lot of physical labour – not to mention precious time and best of all, it’s cost effective.
“If it’s a large grower and he has a tractor dedicated to a Bale Baron there’s really no price difference between the self-propelled Bale Baron versus the tractor, plus the Bale Baron. But then you get the benefits of a self-propelled machine with work out front – it’s a lot nicer for opening up fields.”
Marketing and Distribution
A significant percentage of Marcrest’s distribution of the Bale Baron is in the United States and it’s mostly for larger commercial hay growers who reap the most benefit in purchasing one. As of the end of 2015 about 500 units of the Bale Baron have been sold worldwide. Sales have been strongest in developed countries where labour tends to be more expensive.
“It is an expensive piece of machinery for putting together small square bales. It isn’t for your weekend farmer or a farmer who has just 20 acres of hay every year. However, it does create a market for custom operators to be able to bale for those types of farmers,” Horst says.
Horst credits a significant amount of his early success to having a corporate website going online because it instantly put him on a global scale from a sales and marketing perspective.
“Within two years we were already selling worldwide into England, western Europe and Australia. In the first two years we sold just in Canada. I didn’t chase after markets, but rather they came to me and it’s largely the equine market,” he says.
An interesting fact is that there are more horses now in the United States than there was before there were automobiles, to give you an idea of the size of the horse-hay market. Horst says it’s far bigger than most people realize and it’s the equine market that most often tends to be the most substantive customer for this type of product.
The market still wants small, square bales. In some circumstances there have been those who have converted to round bales and big squares but more out of necessity than desire, because the small square bales are easier to handle and use for feeding in proper proportion. Round bales and large square bales have to be torn apart and often there is a considerable amount wasted.
“We have dealers and feed stores calling us for our customer list because they want to purchase the hay in bundles so we can help our customers in that regard too,” Horst says.
The size of the bundle produced by Marcrest and the Bale Baron is designed to be versatile in handling and that’s one reason why the company went with the length of a small-square bale. It’s a tad shorter than some of the market has been using but it’s still geared around that traditional three-foot bale. The reason for producing that slightly smaller bale is that if you tip three bundles over it is the same height as two bundles upright allowing for stacking into a trailer either way.
For Horst and Marcrest Manufacturing the bundle logistics aspect is in many ways the most significant benefit. It’s not just getting off the field and in to storage but also loading it onto a truck. There is considerable freight savings as well in being able to get between 100 and 120 more bales on per load in a 53-foot trailer.
Benefits of the Bale Baron
Labour savings is one significant beneficial aspect but the growers have consistently told Horst that it’s not just the cost, but rather it’s often difficult to find good, dependable help when it’s most required.
“From a logistics perspective you don’t have to wait until help arrives to load a trailer, which means the truck driver doesn’t have to wait. You can go out and load it in 20 minutes, close the doors and he’s gone,” Horst adds.
There’s also the matter of freight savings. If you can get 120 more bales per load, it translates to about 20% payload and savings in freight costs. For those who can afford to purchase the equipment, it’s a no-brainer in terms of man-hours saved.
Many of Marcrest’s customers are existing growers but some of them are newer and just getting into the business but the bottom line is that they want to change the way they do their work by making it quicker and more efficient.
“If somebody has been talking with us and decide they don’t want to spend the money on a Bale Baron and instead go and buy an accumulator system, I tell our sales reps not to worry about that because they’ll be our next customer,” Horst wryly laughs.
In addition to continuous development design plans there is a need for the staff at Marcrest to follow up with the technical operator’s manuals, safety certifications and different languages that the languages you need to provide the manual in.
“There’s more follow-up work than there is in the initial development of the product,” Horst notes.
Marcrest Manufacturing has already reaped a great deal of success and the future looks even brighter. Horst says it’s not literally about wanting to be twice as big or four times as big, but it’s primarily about being responsive to market requirements. Responding to the needs of the customer always comes first and to fulfill that request means that Horst and his team will continue to provide additional features and options on their machinery. He recognizes that different regions will have preferences as to which type of machinery best suits their needs.
“The first Bale Baron we made was the trail model that runs behind the baler but within two years people were asking for one that picks up off the field. Where we live in our climate, for myself I wouldn’t want to do that but we have to make one if that’s what people want and within two years the pickup model was outselling the trail model,” Horst tells us.
Horst and the Marcrest team continue to develop new products. Until now the emphasis has been on hay-related machinery items but there are plans afoot to branch out beyond that realm, although Horst is not yet ready to divulge what those plans entail but he did say the company has a prototype in mind that could be ready by next summer. Whatever it is, you can bet that it’s something that customers are asking for, because they are the ones who buy the products.
“We have always been customer-driven,” Horst emphasizes. “Our ultimate goal is a satisfied customer. If something isn’t working right, we do everything to make things right.”