National, worldwide demand increases for premium quality Wyoming alfalfa hay
When it comes to marketing hay produced in Wyoming, Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager Donn Randall says the adage holds true – if you always do what you’ve done, you’ll always get no more than what you already have.
“To move forward in any part of life, people have to get out of the box and look at something different, and try to do something different,” says Randall, asking the question, “How can we get more out of our forage in Wyoming than we already do?”
Through the hay expos that Wyoming producers have entered over the last several years in California and Wisconsin, Randall says it’s apparent that Wyoming has a premier product in its alfalfa hay.
“There are three levels of hay producers in Wyoming,” he says. “Those who produce hay for their cows, and probably use a round baler, which is the most efficient way to feed cows, but the most inefficient way to market hay outside the state boundary.
“The second group includes those who have some excess hay, but are missing the boat on producing quality hay that fetches a high dollar, and maybe that’s because it’s not in the right package.
“The third group are those who are totally into hay production, and are sourcing hay to horse markets in Kentucky, Florida and even overseas to the United Arab Emirates. Those are the people who know the game.”
For those who fall into the second group, Randall says he can help them improve the quality of their product so it will bring a higher dollar. He says the first step is to contact him, so that he can come take a look at what a producer has.
“If I am contacted by somebody from Wisconsin or California who is looking for two loads of 170 to 180 RFV (Relative Feed Value), minimum 21 percent protein, I won’t give them to somebody I don’t know, because if it turns out badly I’ve lost a very good client, or have eliminated a relationship on which I’ve worked very hard,” he says. “If you don’t know me, contact me, and I’ll come out and see what type of hay you’re producing.”
“There’s no difference between producing premium quality hay and producing lower end cow hay,” says Randall. “Hay production has fixed inputs – for either quality you have to have land, a swather and a baler and certain inputs. High quality, high yielding hay does require fertilizer, and if you don’t fertilize your yield will be down and your breakeven will be higher.”
He adds that high quality hay producers also have to be willing to bale in the middle of the night.
“A lot of the hay in Wyoming is baled from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and if you’re not willing to get up and bale then, it will show,” he says. “You can go out and bale in the middle of the day in 95-degree weather, but you’re producing packages with no nutritive value.”
“Most of my buyers don’t care much about the size of the stem or which cutting the hay is from, but they want it to be really green, and they want nice leaf capture,” he adds of baling at night with the dew.
Speaking of traveling to Wisconsin for the World Forage Superbowl each fall, Randall says, “People walk into our tent, and it smells heavenly. People there don’t know what good hay is, because they have so much rain. There they have a window to bale from 3 to 6 in the afternoon, because the humidity is such a challenge.”
“There is a demand for Wyoming hay,” he says. “If we had commodity standards for hay like the other grains and commodities, Wyoming would be getting a lot more money, because our hay is in the upper echelon, if not the top, of quality.”
“Trucking is probably our biggest limiting factor,” says Randall of marketing Wyoming alfalfa.
Of what makes Wyoming hay better than that produced in other areas, Randall says it’s because of the elevation and cool nights.
“Our plants actually stop growing at night, in the cool temperatures, and they rest. When the plant stops growing it doesn’t pull minerals from the ground,” he explains. “When you harvest, the stem has no minerals, so when we do the analysis the ash content is lower and digestibility, protein and RFV are high, because there are less minerals in the stem and more of the plant is digestible.”
Randall says dairy nutritionists in Wisconsin have told him that Wyoming hay has almost as much protein as soybean meal, which is heavily utilized by dairies.
“Wyoming hay is very unique, and it’s almost unfair for us to take hay back to the forage expo and compete in the forage contest, because we win every time,” he says. “Last year, out of the top six places, Wyoming claimed five.”
To increase dollar share in forage markets, Randall says a producer must get quality up.
“That’s the minimum thing, and packaging is a big issue. If the quality is there, the price is there,” he notes, adding that the most easily marketed packages are 3x3 and 3x4 square bales.
As an example of demand for quality hay, Randall mentions his meeting last summer with a California company that’s looking to export hay to the United Arab Emirates.
“The United Arab Emirates are saving all their water for human food production, and they’ll buy all their forage for cattle, goats and horses,” he says. “The countries around them are also looking at the same strategy, and they could go from one million tons in exports to six million tons. China and Japan are also starting to buy hay.”
“For those of you who can produce quality hay, the price of hay will be higher. Cow hay will always be cow hay, but the premium markets will be higher,” he states, adding that a large dairy operation is being established at Greeley, Colo. “The word I heard at the Colorado farm show was that some dairies from California are moving to Colorado and southwest Wyoming.”
“Good quality alfalfa dairy hay will probably go for $120 per ton next year,” he predicts. “If you’re producing hay into that market, it could very well be there, if not higher. There’s no doubt we’ll have more demand for Wyoming hay.”