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Xeric Thoughts: Local Hay

I have a friend who grows alfalfa hay, malt barley, sugar beets and certified alfalfa seed. He is proud of his hay, and he has very good hay. A man from Texas drove into my friend’s yard last week and offered him $190 a ton for all of his hay – and he has a lot of hay. The Texan would take delivery right there from the farm, trucked to his place. To my friend – let’s call him Bob – this is a great deal. Yet it creates a set of dilemmas concerning customer loyalty and regional pride.

Last year Bob sold hay to buyers that took it to Salt Lake City, Utah, compressed it, loaded it onto a jet and flew it to Saudi Arabia for their dairy industry. Bob also sold hay to horse stables and dairies in Colorado.  He sold some to Wyoming beef producers, but not much.  But here is what Bob wants to do – he wants to sell his very good hay to Wyoming producers. In this way he would be partnering in local enterprises and helping build the agriculture industry in our great state. However, what Bob has run into, and Bob is not alone in this, is resistance from local livestock growers to pay for high quality hay. 

Now I’m not here to rewrite any socio-economic tome on how to best raise livestock.  I do however think that the price of hay is every bit as important to Wyoming agriculture as the price of beef.  In the early 1990s, I was working for the University of Wyoming Extension Service and Fremont County alfalfa hay was selling for $65 a ton.  I watched as co-ops fell apart because someone would pull out to go after $60 being waved at them. Through a survey of several farmers and government agencies it was determined that it cost $47 a ton to put good hay up, I always felt this number was short because farmers, like ranchers, forget to charge for their time in the enterprise. Add in some transportation cost and there was little room for profit. Since then, fuel has gone up 300 percent and equipment has gotten bigger, better and certainly more expensive. This all makes irrigated alfalfa hay production a very expensive proposition.

Back to Bob – He would be pretty happy to have loyal customers who bought his hay every year.  There is power in having regular buyers. Power to plan, power to combine resources, and the power to improve efficiency. This can bring the cost of production down, thus regular customers get the best prices. And a guy like Bob would give regular customers a break just because, well, they are neighbors in a Wyoming sort of way.  They aren’t just some guy from Texas.