Big Bale North & South news story

(MF and Big Bale companies) L-R Mark Grigson, Product Marketing Manager, Michael Coleman, Big Bale South, William Judge, Brand Manager, UK, Eire & Middle East, David Johnson, Big Bale North, Joe Ford, National Sales Manager, UK & Eire. 



An award marking sales of more than 2,000 Massey Ferguson large square balers, was presented to two key dealers during a recent visit to the Kansas, USA manufacturing plant. 

The award was presented jointly to long-established Massey Ferguson baler dealers, Big Bale Company (North) Ltd, and Big Bale Company (South) Ltd. The two businesses were set up as separate entities in 1991 but, before that, company founders, Michael Coleman and David Johnson operated together as the Big Bale Company. They started off importing parts supplied by USA-based dealers to support a small number of Hesston balers operating in the UK and progressed to importing used and then new complete machines. Now Michael runs Big Bale South and David runs Big Bale North, and the two companies each account for a significant chunk of Massey Ferguson’s leading share of the UK large square baler market.


Meeting demand

Before dealing in farm machinery, David worked for Unilever’s livestock feed division - sourcing straw for straw pellets. Hesston large square balers had recently been launched and two were imported to the UK to produce the bales. “We needed a lot of straw to satisfy market demand, and I had many useful industry contacts. In 1980, I set up the Northern Straw business to source straw and supply it for this growing market,” he explained.

At that time, Michael Coleman was an agricultural contractor specialising in small bales and hedge cutting but, by the late 1970’s, the company was also becoming involved in machinery sales. Holden Plant was one of the first companies to use the new Hesston large square balers in the UK, and Michael was asked to obtain and supply essential spare parts as existing supply arrangements were poor. Unable to buy direct from Hesston, Michael dispatched a company representative to Pennsylvania to visit potential suppliers, and an agreement with a dealer was quickly reached.

Successful partnership

David and Michael met at the Oxford Farming Conference in 1983, where David was giving a presentation about potential markets for straw. They got on well from the start, and with Michael’s experience of contracting and machinery, and David’s knowledge of straw sales, they set up Big Bale Co Ltd together as business partners. There were two depots – one in Doncaster to serve the northern area, and another in Hampshire - looking after customers in the south. Both carried stocks of imported spare parts and offered service back-up from trained engineers.

Most spare parts were imported in 40ft containers, and by the mid-1980’s the company had also imported its first used Hesston baler from the USA.

Dealing in used balers, stocks of the 4800 model increased, so a strategy was devised to offer them for hire. At that time, machinery hire was relatively unknown in the UK, but it proved quickly popular so that by the late 1990’s the company had a substantial number of Hesston balers rented to customers across the UK. 

Big Bale Co Ltd couldn’t buy balers or parts direct from Hesston, but relationships with several US-based dealers proved fruitful. An updated 4900 model had recently been announced, and dealers with current 4800-series balers in stock were happy to sell these to the UK buyers on favourable terms. A kit was created to adapt the balers to meet European homologation requirements, and this was checked and approved by the HSE.

Factory recognition

For harvest 1988, four new 4900-series balers were imported and sold. These offered extra performance and even better reliability than the 4800-series, and the Big Bale Co team was able to establish a relationship with the Hesston factory – allowing five engineers to visit the plant and receive technical training from Bill Peterson – who oversaw the baler’s design.

Growing demand meant that 16 balers were ordered for harvest 1989, and annual trips to the factory including meetings with design engineers commenced – allowing useful feedback regarding machine operation in European conditions to be exchanged.

As well as supplying straw for feed, demand for the crop as biomass for energy production also took off. “The only way to supply it was in 4x4 bales,” explained David. “The whole straw feed process had been developed around using bales of that size, so it was almost a captive market.”

Large Square balers at the Hesston factory in Kansas.

Baling grass too

Demand for agricultural use increased, as farmers became more aware of the advantages of large square bales over conventional small bales. There was interest for grass harvesting too, although the factory couldn’t confirm whether this would be successful as it hadn’t been tried in the USA. “We discovered quickly that the Hesston balers coped well which generated even more interest,” said Michael.

Businesses separate.

In 1991, Michael and David split the business amicably, and set up new companies – Big Bale Company (South) Ltd and Big Bale Company (North) Ltd.

AGCO’s purchase of the Hesston business in 1995 was extremely positive for both Big Bale companies. “From the start, we found Massey Ferguson very fair and easy to deal with,” stressed Michael. “I think that a big factor in the continuing success is that the small Kansas-based Hesston factory and team has been left to get on with what it knows best which is developing class-leading balers and a small range of other speciality products, rather than being swallowed up by the much larger company. The factory has grown significantly allowing it to meet increased demand, and all the changes have been for the better.”

David agrees. “When the 4900-series models arrived they represented a big step up from earlier models – and that was important even though there was no real competition at that time. AGCO has invested heavily in research and development, and the current range of balers is the best so far.

“There is a wider choice of models now, although the market has slimmed down so that 3x4 and 4x4 balers dominate. Bales of 3x3 size are popular for leisure use including equine units, and for traditional beef cattle and dairy enterprises. High-density XD balers now account for most sales as haulage is expensive, and the extra density means more straw can be moved on each load. The bales stack better for transport too.”

Dedicated to balers

Both UK Big Bale Companies continue to specialise. “We are unusual in that we are an official Massey Ferguson dealer, but rather than selling the full range of agricultural products, we just specialise in balers,” continued Michael. “We look after customers nationwide, offering back-up from experienced teams who know everything that there is to know about these machines.

“We’ve been approached many times by other manufacturers, asking us to represent them. However, we get on well with Massey Ferguson and with the Hesston factory team, and we rate the range we sell as the best in the market.”

Customers from Dealerships Big Bale North and South and WBD in Ireland. 

2,000+ balers

“David and I started our company as a result of a chance meeting at the Oxford Farming Conference, and when Massey Ferguson presented this award more than 40 years later, I was totally blown away but very grateful for the recognition of what has been achieved,” commented Michael.

“When we started the business, we never expected it to continue for this long,” acknowledged David. “We were there at the right time, at the start of big baling and the factory has been great; producing good machines and allowing us to maintain a very close and positive relationship over the years.”

Massey Ferguson National Sales Manager, William Judge joined Michael and David for this year’s Hesston factory visit. “This was the first opportunity for a group visit to the baler factory, after a break of nearly five years due to Covid-19 restrictions,” he explained. “Both Big Bale Companies have a vast amount of user experience, which is quite unique. Big Bale (North) is a large customer in its own right, operating many machines which allows the team to experience the products from both sides.

“The visit provided a great opportunity to share information between UK customers, technicians, and the factory teams responsible for baler design.”

Very high benchmark

William confirmed that the award was a complete surprise to both Big Bale Companies. It celebrated total sales of more than 2,000 large square balers since the first used Hesston machines were imported by Michael and David more than 40 years ago.

“Massey Ferguson is the UK market leader in this specialist sector, and I have no doubt that this continuing success is in part due to the efforts of these two companies over so many years. These people were right at the forefront of the industry, and they set an extremely high benchmark that others now try to follow.”

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