So you want to make hay?
Posted: July 28, 2011
Small bales have high labor requirements but a producer can add more mechanization to help reduce labor costs, such as a bale accumulator or a bale handler.
Hay can be quite expensive to make due to fertilizer, machinery and land costs. Machinery alone is a big portion of the cost. Machinery is needed for the establishment year, maintenance and harvest. Some operations may be conducted by hiring a custom business. For example, hay fields could be established with a rented drill or a farmer who does custom work.
Depending on the crop, you will need to spend money on fertilization and pest control to get the very best yields and quality. If your goal is to produce hay for the certified organic market, you may have to bear some extra loss from pests or have to rotate the crop much sooner, due to weed pressure.
Are you going to produce hay for your own consumption or are you going to market those bales? What are the nutritional quality needs for your hay?
What kind of a baling system will you use? For harvesting, you will need a mower, a baler, wagons and a storage area to keep bales out of weather. Small bales are more for direct marketing (horses, small hobby farms). Small bales have high labor requirements but a producer can add more mechanization to help reduce labor costs, such as a bale accumulator or a bale handler. However, it adds to the overall cost of your product. Large bales need special handling, but are a standard for farm animal consumption and interstate marketing. Round bales are useful for feeding your own animals and do not bring a premium to the market (unless a hay shortage).
Did I mention you will need quite a few acres to justify making purchases of some of this equipment? If you can fix up equipment, remember, your time is valuable and should be budgeted toward the most profitable enterprises on the farm (maybe another enterprise on the farm qualifies.) For enterprise budget information, go to the Penn State Agronomy Guide, http://extension.psu.edu/agronomy-guide, and under the Crop and Soil management section, find the chapter on budgets. There is a budget for hay establishment costs and for maintenance.
Finally, farm machinery safety is an issue when handling all of these pieces of equipment due to all the moving parts. Read owner’s manuals and be aware of the hazards before you operate equipment.
Cost of production is not the only factor in making a decision to get into an agricultural enterprise, but when making hay, it is.
Hay Website Resources
- Hay and Forage Grower (popular press)
- Progressive Forage Grower (popular press)
- PA Forage and Grassland Council (organization for hay, forage and pasture producers and industry personnel)
- New Holland Haymaker’s Handbook
- Pennsylvania Machinery Custom rates