Wyoming hay hits international marketplace
Riverton – In mid-July, representatives from the international hay exporting company ACX Pacific Northwest visited producers in Fremont County to establish relationships and look at alfalfa hay in the area.
“I was told the United Arab Emirates are reaching a point where they are thinking about conserving their natural, higher quality water for human food production rather than forage production. If they do that, ACX will export over half a million tons of hay just to them,” explains Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager Donn Randall. “It could go up to almost four million tons in exports if other countries in the Mideast do the same thing. There’s no way ACX will be able to meet that demand without establishing additional markets. That’s why they’re here – to establish relationships and visit with producers and look at the hay.”
ACX Chief Marketing Officer Micahel Gombos Jr. and Vice President Chris Carrow were the representatives who visited Fremont County. Their company supplies forage and roughage products to Japan, Korea, China, the United Arab Emirates and other global destinations. ACX has been in business for three generations – 32 years total – and, according to company information, is the only U.S. hay exporter with hay processing and storage facilities in all major growing regions of the western U.S.
Area producer Mike Febrizius organized the tour to show Gombos and Carrow a sampling of hay in the area. Lab test results were provided for hay, and Carrow and Gombos performed personal inspections as well.
“My expertise is alfalfa and I’m here to judge the quality of the hay,” explains Carrow. “The clean alfalfa we’ve seen is good. It has a good visual appearance and some of the tests I’ve seen are good. The protein levels are a little lower than we like to see, but the taste of the hay is good.
“There are two sides to it – you have the analytical side and the art side. Then you have to ask if you have a customer for the hay. Everybody can buy hay that tests really high, but it’s about who can buy hay that doesn’t test as high but looks good and find the right customer for it. That’s what we do – match hay with customers,” explains Carrow.
“When Chris is looking at a stack of hay he’s not only thinking about what country it could go to, but specifically what buyer. Our job is matching hay to buyers,” adds Gombos.
ACX typically takes possession of the hay and generally deals with producers directly, with the occasional hay broker thrown in. They densify the product at one of their three processing plants prior to shipping it all over the world.
“We work with bookings and have a tremendous amount of storage at each plant location. We take possession of the cargo and are typically dealers, not brokers where we do back to back business.
ACX has processing plants in Ellensburg, Wash., Wasco, Calif. and one just outside the ports of Los Angeles, Calif. The L.A. location has the least amount of storage, at approximately 10,000 tons. Between 30 and 40 trucks of product are hauled to the ports daily from that location. Gombos notes that ACX has built inventory and one reason for that is ocean freight.
“It’s a big problem right now. It’s expensive and unreliable. They lost billions and billions of dollars in the last couple years and they are jacking prices up and cutting service back to create demand,” he explains.
When looking at hay in a new area, ACX prefers to take time to meet producers and see the product first hand. As they look at alfalfa they are constantly considering what products can go into the export market.
“In the first couple of trips to a new area, someone from the company will have to come and look at the hay. Then we will start looking at people in the area that are reputable and have the same eyes for hay as we do and are on the same page ethically. Those are very important things and they take time to establish,” says Gombos.
“It’s a step-by-step relationship building process,” adds Carrow.
“We don’t expect to do a tremendous amount of business here this year. We would like to some, but we want to do be doing business here in a bigger way 10 years from now as our third-generation guys come in,” explains Gombos.
“We’ve increased exports out of Wyoming by 2,200 tons, which equates to a little over a quarter million dollars in additional sales, just since last October,” notes Randall of Wyoming’s production. “This would be a great opportunity for producers who produce the necessary quality of hay.”
The Fremont County visit was ACX’s first trip to Wyoming. Another tour in Lincoln County, which is the fourth largest hay producing county in the state, is tentatively scheduled for late August or early September.
“Fremont County is the number one hay producing county. Lincoln, at number four, surprised me a little. Historically, a lot of that valley was dairies and they had two cheese factories. With the out-of-staters moving in and buying it up, the price of property has gone up and forced a lot of those little dairies out of business, but they still raise a lot of alfalfa and don’t currently have a market for it,” explains Randall.
“We’ve been doing this for 32 years. The first guy I ever met in the Japanese market 32 years ago is someone we still do business with. Taking the time to establish these relationships and meet with producers and see the hay is important to us,” adds Gombos.
Following the tour Gombos and Carrow met with more area producers over dinner in Riverton to answer questions and establish additional relationships.