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Tips for profitable cash hay operations

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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 marketing. Let’s briefly discuss some management tips that can help 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, which can be very demanding.
Realistically assess your ability to hire labor on a timely basis. Be sure you have labor lined up before committing to supply large quantities of hay that you cannot get up for shipment (or storage). Locally, most buyers still want small dense square bales for distance hauling. These are, of course, more labor intensive. Also, don’t forget the labor to load and unload bales of stored hay for shipment. 
Base your estimated income on average, not high, market prices for hay. If you can succeed on average prices, you will be in great shape in years when prices are even better. 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.
We will discuss more tips next week.