County-wide bad (w)rap: Are you the livestock feeder who’s littering our beautiful county with plastic-netting hay wrap?

Highway 181 near Dora VFD

AA Highway at Highway 181

Highway 5 north near A Highway

Highway 160 near HH Highway in Isabella

Highway 160 and OO Highway at Ocie

Highway 5 north at Wasola

Highway 160 near Giles & Kendall cedar plant

Highway 160 at CR 306 in Lilly Ridge

Highway 160 across from Gainesville Elementary

Highways 160 and 5 north in Gainesville

J Highway at T Highway in Howards Ridge

Raising livestock is a way of life for many Ozark Countians, and eating beef is a way of life for most residents here. We might not think about it much, but we non-farmers and farmers alike are thankful for modern technology and machinery – plus the long, hard work on the part of agricultural producers – that makes meat affordable for those of us who like to eat it. 

But there’s an ugly bit of modern-day beef producing that’s bugging some of us: the unsightly wads of plastic-net hay wrap that’s littering Ozark County roadways. So here’s a request to those few livestock feeders who are responsible for the mess: Clean up after yourselves! 

We’re all sick of seeing that plastic-net hay-wrap trash littering Ozark County roadsides. Honestly: it’s everywhere. As examples, just look at the photos on this page – hay wrap photographed all over the county.

As a reminder, here’s how most of that hay wrap winds up as a public eyesore: Livestock feeders cut it off a round bale when feeding cattle. Then, conscientious farmers toss it into the cab of a truck or tractor and haul it home to a trash can. 

The rest–a small bunch of don’t-give-a-care types– toss it into the back of a “self-cleaning” truck bed and drive home or into town, and then are not at all surprised, and don’t seem to care at all, that the trash has magically disappeared, taking up residence along one of Ozark County’s roadways, where it will stay forever. 

The darn stuff doesn’t degrade or dissolve. It stays there, an unsightly wad, until late summer, when the poor MoDOT guys are mowing.

MoDOT Gainesville shed supervisor Rodney Yost said he doesn’t have anything good to say about hay wrap on the roadsides. And no wonder. By August, the shoulders and ditches along the highways have grown up with vegetation, so the mower operators can’t see the hay wrap hidden under the weeds. They hit it with the mower, and it either gets “tossed out onto the roadway,” Yost said, or else it gets tangled up in the mower blades. 

And who wants to lie in the ticks, weeds and chiggers alongside a busy roadside in August and cut someone’s hay wrap out of the mower blades?

Hay wrap is a great invention. It makes feeding hay so much easier for hard-working farmers. But carelessly tossed aside, it’s also the devil – a danger to wildlife and to the livestock that might eat the hay it’s wrapped around.

Ozark County’s Extension livestock specialist Randy Wiedmeier said that, earlier in his career when he was doing livestock research, pieces of the plastic hay wrap were sometimes found in cattle’s digestive system. “And sooner or later, you knew that wad of plastic was probably going to cause a blockage, and more than likely, that animal would suffer a slow and agonizing death,” he said. 

The same kind of death surely awaits other animals that mistake the discarded hay-wrap greenery for something edible or interesting. One man who sometimes picks up hay-wrap netting along the roadside said he had found the skeletons of snakes and other animals entangled in the plastic. They, too, had probably died a “slow and agonizing death.”

Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole in Lawrence County is considered an expert on the problem of hay-wrap disposal. He published a news release in 2015 describing those problems, and when the Times contacted him recently, he said things haven’t improved, as far as the plastic-netting hay wrap goes. While a plastic recycler in Little Rock, Arkansas, will gladly recycle bales of black and white solid-sheet forage wrap, the only acceptable way to dispose of the netting wrap is “to landfill it,” he said.

And to get it to the landfill, livestock feeders have to put it in the floorboard of a truck or tractor, rather than the truck bed. 

“It needs to be hauled home and put in the producer’s trash bin or dumpster for the solid waste company to pick up and haul away,” Cole said.

A few folks we talked to pointed out that burning the plastic netting is a quick and easy way to dispose of it. The problem is, it’s illegal. Mike Parris, the Department of Natural Resources’ compliance enforcement chief for solid waste management, told the Times that, until there’s some way to recycle the hay wrap, the only way to dispose of it properly is to get it to a landfill. 

“Burning is prohibited under our air pollution control regulations,” he said. 

Parris noted that the plastic-netting hay wrap is not only a suffocation and entanglement hazard for wildlife, it can create erosion and travel hazards too. “When it’s crumpled up in roadside ditches, it can hold sediment and impact the water flow in the ditches, maybe causing them to overflow onto the roadway,” he said.

He encourages residents to pay attention to where the hay wrap is seen along local roads. “Most people in the area know who’s feeding. Maybe residents could ask the county to increase patrols in areas where hay wrap is regularly appearing,” Parris said.

Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Jeffery Kinder said fines for those caught  littering hay wrap (or anything else) could be in the hundreds of dollars, depending on what the county’s prosecuting attorney decides is appropriate. 

Parris also suggested that residents who are fed up with seeing hay wrap on the roadside might have the courage to speak up. Maybe they can say to property owners where hay is being fed, “We’re noticing hay wrap up and down the road. If it’s yours, how about putting it in the trash instead of the back of your truck?” 

Sounds crazy, we know, but maybe it would cause the handful of litter-prone hay-feeders out there to think again before tossing that stuff in the back of the truck. 

It all comes down to the responsibility of that one person who’s cutting hay wrap off a round bale. Are you that person? Instead of throwing it into your self-cleaning truck bed and driving off down the highway, how about tossing it into the cab of your truck and taking it to home with you, like the respectful members of your vocation do? It’ll look so much nicer shoved down into your trashcan than it will wadded up beside beautiful Ozark County roads.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423