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Wrapping up a better approach in Kimball

A large hay bale is ground to produce feed on the Konechne Ranch in Kimball. Amanda and Chris Konechne have been working to create a digestible alternative to plastic net wrap. (Contributed photo)

KIMBALL — Ideas—and sometimes things—can sit in your gut, demanding action.

Take Netwrap, for example.

Amanda Konechne has been chewing on ideas for a better alternative to the round hay bale wrap for at least five years.

At times her research has sat neglected, but last year saw renewed effort. She and her husband, Chris, of Konechne Ranch in Kimball, have recently been recommended to receive a $7,500 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program for the project, "Edible Net Wrap: A Possible Solution to Livestock Longevity."

Amanda, a stay-at-home mother who trained as a graphic artist, grew up on a farm but married in to a larger operation. That provoked questions of her husband, including those about Netwrap.

Plastic Netwrap enables baled forage to shed moisture and thus aids preservation. Ranchers later grind the dried bales to produce feed, and many don't remove the wrap before grinding, the Konechnes discovered using surveys.

"On our operation, we grind a lot of it," she said.

Stretchable plastic Netwrap material is labeled biodegradable, but it takes awhile to break down, and in some cases it becomes trapped in the rumen of livestock, causing health problems. The incidence isn't high, Amanda said, but it does affect livestock longevity. It's an issue for more than cattle alone.

Amanda has been pursuing a digestible wrap material that still allows compressed forage to shed water. She doesn't want to share too much of her research for competitive and other reasons.

Over time, she has surveyed producers, made connections and engaged students at South Dakota State University to test alternatives. She earlier sought guidance from the SDSU Extension office in Mitchell, which opened up important avenues.

"It steamrolled from there," Amanda said.

If all of these efforts pan out, Amanda plans to do the bulk of any product manufacturing in the United States.

As with any dream, it's important to give it reins without letting it run wild.

"I never really thought I'd come up with a product with so much potential," Amanda said.

She and her husband expect to send out additional surveys to producers and veterinarians to refine their research.

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