Large hay reserves in barn. Photo credit: Dwane Miller.
Almost always, as I’m talking to other hay producers across the state, the price of hay comes up as one of the first topics of conversation. We immediately turn our attention to the current price of hay at local auctions as the barometer. Using this past winter as an example, the conversation hasn’t been pretty with respect to hay price. Many factors will contribute to the arrived price of hay, including: quantity and quality of hay coming into the market, size of bales, animal numbers in a certain geographical area, financial ability of buyer to pay, and many others. I’ve talked to some growers who say they are going to sell “just enough” so that they can get this year’s crop into the barn and leave the rest in the barn for later sale. If carry-over stocks are higher than average, you as a hay producer may need to differentiate yourself from your neighbor. This may allow you to receive a higher price for your hay. Besides raising field crops, I grew up on a farm where we raised vegetables and traveled to farmer’s markets to sell our produce. I believe marketing hay is very much like marketing our vegetables; we needed to set ourselves apart from other competition. Yes, taking the hay to the auction may be the easiest way to sell your hay… but maybe you have to begin to market your hay.
In order to capitalize on price, you must begin to develop a relationship with potential buyers. Would you entertain giving someone a bale or two of hay in order to see if they “like” what you have? When I sell hay privately, there are usually no surprises. If the customer hasn’t seen the same hay in previous loads, they are offered the opportunity to get a sample to try first. What criteria do your customers use to purchase their hay? If you know which animal(s) they are trying to feed, you may be able to help them select a variety or cutting that matches their needs. We all buy our concentrate feeds based on the nutritional value on that feed tag; but yet many hay buyers purchase based on color, smell, absence of weeds, etc. In some cases, if you can develop a long-term relationship, having your forage analyzed for nutritional content may be a worthwhile option.
If you’re marketing small square bales of hay, do you offer delivery? When you unload, do you have help that you are willing to provide in the barn or is your sole responsibility to get it off the truck? Sometimes, a producer will offer a discount for certain things like picking hay up at the farm, large quantities, pre-paid sales and more.
If we develop a relationship with customers, many times we know if the hay we are baling is already sold before it leaves the field… what could be a better feeling on that hot August day? In some cases, we may be able to market that hay to the customer directly out of the field. This is advantageous because it eliminates the cost of unloading, storing the hay in your barn, and then reloading at a later date. If not, we can store the hay in our barn, knowing it is already sold and will be taken sometime over the winter months. Being upfront with customers who would like to pre-purchase hay can be very appealing. Just ensure you have an ample supply to meet their needs until next year’s crop is harvested.
Finally, ensure you take time to follow up with customers. After you deliver the hay, ask them if they are satisfied with the product. You also need to be upfront with your expectations for what will occur if your hay doesn’t meet their standards. Will you replace unacceptable bales, or refund the purchase price? Is there a timeframe for which they have to bring concerns to you? Finally, if you’ve marketed the hay through the auction, and you have more of the same hay, ask them if they would be interested in more. Start cultivating that relationship with them; you may have a potential long-term customer in the future!
For more information on hay marketing, check out this factsheet from Les Vough in Maryland or this factsheet from Dan Undersander in Wisconsin.