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Storage and marketing are part of profitable cash hay operations

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Several local farmers involved in production and marketing

By David Harrison

Cash hay sales can be an income source for the farmer who is willing to provide good management and to work at quality hay production and marketing. Several LaRue County farmers are already involved in hay production and/or marketing, and many producers sell hay from time to time. Let’s briefly discuss 10 management tips that can help you generate the most profit from this enterprise.

•Do some extensive research on what the market will be and who your customers will be. Save some of this year’s bales back to show prospective customers or brokers the kind of job you can do. Alfalfa, mixed hays, timothy hay as well as straw have potential buyers, but you must supply the product and the quality the buyers’ demand.

•Realistically assess your ability to hire labor on a timely basis. Locally, most buyers will want small dense square bales for distance hauling. These are, of course, more labor intensive.

•Base your estimated income on average, not high, market prices for hay. Make a short list on equipment necessary to expand your production capacity and quickly get hay up. Be tight-fisted, but realistic, about the budget. Timeliness and efficiency are critical in hay production.

•Target the cleanest, most dense and weed-free fields as those most likely to be good enough for cash hay. Buyers of quality hay do not want weeds in the bales they purchase, so do your best to keep them out.

•Develop a plan to first harvest the heaviest production in a timely fashion. This first harvest can be nearly 50 percent of your annual yield on good stands in good years. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

•Work on storage to provide the capacity and access to the hay that you need. Also be sure you can get to the storage area in bad weather, and that large trucks can have easy access.

•Consider establishing any new alfalfa fields as pure alfalfa and put grass in later. This will help you manage weeds. Roundup Ready alfalfa, when it is available for sale again, should help in grass and weed control.

•Develop a plan to market hay that is off quality. Despite your best efforts you will not be able to grow and market the best quality hay all the time, so have a market for the lower quality hay.

•Learn all you can about cash hay enterprises from the experts by talking to experienced growers and attending meetings of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and other educational organizations and groups.  The 30th Annual Alfalfa Conference on Feb. 25 in Cave City is one such opportunity.

•Remember that the hay business is a service operation. Your success may depend as much on what you are willing to do for the customer as what you can supply.