On-Farm Innovation Series: Hay Caps

Over the 2018/19 festive period, Farm Table is presenting a series to celebrate the innovative ingenuity of farm inventions, big and small, and the farmers behind them.

Innovative solutions to problems are being developed and designed by Australian producers, and we are excited and proud to share these stories with you all.

In our first case study, we chat to the Snowden’s from Tocumwal – a dynamic and talented family who make the most out of every day. We were thrilled to meet with them and chat about their innovative product, Hay Caps.

Phil & Lynda Snowden

Phil and Lynda, tell us about you and where you are based?

We are based on our property, “The Grange”, Tocumwal, in the southern Riverina of NSW. We are hay producers specialising in irrigated lucerne hay production, but also grow cereal hay, grain and trade cattle. We are very much a family farm/business with our daughter, son & his partner all working alongside us on the property.

Phil & daughter Beth in an irrigated lucerne paddock

What is the nature of your on-farm innovation?

We invented a hay covering system, called Hay Caps. Hay Caps are individual hay covers made from recycled plastic that are applied at ground level to the bale. The capped bale is then placed on top as the stack is built. Folds butt together, creating a roof over the hay.

We do all the manufacturing, marketing & distribution from our farm base at Tocumwal. We employ six people for six months of the year. We have over 1,800 farmers using Hay Caps all over Australia as well as NZ, USA, Canada & Europe. We are also manufacturing Hay Caps in the United Kingdom.

Stacking hay with Hay Caps

Why did you develop Hay Caps? What was the problem you were hoping to solve?

We wanted a safer & more durable way of covering our excess hay in the good seasons.

We used to use large tarpaulins extensively before inventing the Hay Caps but tarpaulins are dangerous to apply, expensive, prone to wind & rodent damage and don’t last long. We needed a safe, reusable & economical solution. There was nothing suitable on the market so we developed it ourselves.

Stacking hay with Hay Caps and bale stacker

What have been the major successes?

We are proud of the fact that we have developed a product that benefits the whole industry right from farmers growing hay for their own use, or those that are selling, through to the contractors, hay carters and end uses of hay. Hay Caps have changed the way that hay is stored around Australia.

Initially we entered our invention in the HMFD Inventor competition and made it to the National Finals at Orange. That gave us great feedback from farmers and a lot of publicity. From there we managed to score a slot on the ABC’s New Inventors where we won our episode. We also won the Innovation in Agriculture Award for New Technology with the NFF in 2010.

The Hay Caps have proved themselves within the industry to be a very affordable option and have the ability to cover any volume of hay, safely from the ground and be reused year after year.

Phil at the 2007 HMFD Inventor competition

What have been the major challenges?

Initially finding the right affordable material and the manufacturing process to make the Hay Caps out of to get the concept to work was a real challenge. Keeping it cost effective was a key driver.

Once we developed the Hay Cap and had it ready for market, resellers (rural supply merchants) were not interested in selling them until they were a proven product, so we had to directly market to customers. Now everyone wants to sell them!

We have found that cost control is absolutely essential. As more people get involved throughout the manufacturing, transport, and retail stages, the cost of the end product increases. It can make the venture unviable if not kept under control as the product becomes too expensive for the end user.

In addition, connectivity was an issue, but with good internet capabilities it now means that direct to customer businesses are so much easier.

Our biggest challenge currently is predicting stock levels to meet seasonal demand.

Trucking out hay stored under Hay Caps

Do you have any advice for others looking to solve a problem they face on farm?

Don’t spend any more money developing a product than you can afford to lose.

The invention or idea is only the seed. It has to be planted, protected, grown, harvested and marketed. If you get it all right you may get a rewarding result.

More specifically, if you have intentions of marketing your product at any time into the future than you need to talk to a patent attorney right at the very beginning, before you make your invention public.

2011 HMFD as an exhibitor. Phil & Lynda did the Field Day circuit for many years as exhibitors.

 Where can people find you? 

People can find us at:

And if you want photos from the farm side of the business then check out Farm-ily.  Lynda has been photographing the everyday of their family farm since 1st January, 2013, in an online blog.

Thank you so much Lynda and Phil.

Thank you both for taking the time to give an insight into your business for our readers. What you have achieved and continue to achieve in all facets of your farming, business and family life is nothing short of incredible. Aimee, Phil and Lynda’s daughter is also an incredible inspiration to us. Be sure to read our piece on Aimee below.

Meet Aimee

Stay tuned for our next case study.

Know an on-farm innovator? We would love to meet them! Please let us know by sending Airlie an email at airlie@farmtable.com.au