Make a connection - IFG connects forage producers, customersWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Basin – “We, as an association, are a charter member of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance,” stated Barb Kinnan, executive director of the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association (NAMA), at the Wyoming Forage Field Day in Basin on June 11.
Now operating under the business name of Independent Forage Growers (IFG), NAMA is hoping to welcome a larger membership to their organization.
“The stigma has been that we are the Nebraska, large square, dairy association. That’s not true. We have corn stalks, grasses, grass mixes and more on inventory,” Kinnan explained.
Members from other states may also be more inclined to join the association under its new name.
“Perhaps Wyoming members, Colorado members, Kansas members or those from the Dakotas will be able to take advantage of the tools that we have,” she commented. “We want to take the stigma away and broaden our borders to help us all.”
IFG is a non-profit group of independent forage producers that was created almost 30 years ago.
“Our goal is to operate as an information sharing network. We do advertising and promotion to help our members gain access to markets they might not otherwise have access to on their own,” she said.
One of the first things that the organization did when it was formed in 1986 was invest in a booth at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., which they continue to do each year.
“It’s a huge opportunity and a huge market,” Kinnan noted.
Members of the association now stand in the booth to meet with expo visitors, and the Association covers the costs of the exhibition fees, brochures and directories.
“When I came on board, we started with other tradeshows. We also developed an advertising program that follows weather markets,” Kinnan added.
The advertising program targets areas that may be affected by weather. For example, ads were placed in Texas publications when dry weather created a bigger hay market.
“We are ready to go with ads that refer buyers to the 800 number, which goes to my office or to our website. Contacts can be made from there,” she commented.
The IFG website includes a number of features, including forums and classifieds that Association members have to log in to see. Public information on the site includes an inventory list, where producers can post their products.
“This has been a huge tool,” Kinnan remarked. “For dairies, goat feeders, feedlots and anyone else, it’s probably the biggest tool we have in our arsenal.”
Inventory postings are monitored so that only current listings are available on the site. Anything that hasn’t been updated within 90 days is automatically deleted.
“If I see something sitting there for very long, I may call the member to make sure the posting is updated because we don’t want any false ads,” she explained.
Prices are not listed anywhere on the inventory list. Postings are designed to refer buyers to available producers, and negotiations are the responsibility of the interested parties.
“Our producers set their own prices, and we don’t list them. Potential customers are referred to the producer, and from that point on, the Association steps out of the equation,” Kinnan said.
Competition between producers is one of the biggest challenges that IFG faces as an organization that encourages producers to support each other.
“It’s a matter of trying to build the market and get higher prices,” Kinnan explained.
Supporting the industry
The Association contributes many of its resources toward hay sales, but the objective is also to provide industry support.
“I have a seat on the board of directors of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, and every February, we go to Washington, D.C.,” Kinnan noted.
Board members speak to senators and agency officials who may have interests in the hay industry and request research dollars for alfalfa and forages.
“Corn gets $44 million in research and soybeans get $34 million research dollars. The forage industry only gets $3 million,” she commented.
IFG membership dues support the industry and promotional activities.
“As producers on our own, if we all stay quiet, there will be no changes and nothing will happen,” Kinnan explained, noting that together, they have more influence.
IFG also distributes periodic newsletters with market and industry information.
“We have referrals that we share with all of our members – everything from equipment dealers to chemical suppliers,” Kinnan noted.
They also share information about trucking and truck brokerages and can help with credit checks.
“We keep our members informed about the markets as well,” she added, indicating that USDA market reports may not always be immediately up-to-date.
“I go around and talk to my producers and gather information on current sales and try to maintain a record,” she explained.
A text messaging system has also been implemented so Kinnan can inform members about time-sensitive industry information.
“For example, I got an email from the Wyoming BLM asking for requests for quotes on a contract. They wanted quotes within 24 hours,” she said.
Kinnan sent out a message to her Association members to find out if anyone was interested in the 1,000-ton agreement.
“We had two members from Wyoming who got ahold of me, and I gave them the information. Beyond that, it was their deal to make the contract work,” she added.
Kinnan explained that IFG is designed to build networks and support systems for producers.
“The hay industry is the third largest, most profitable crop in the country, as a whole,” she stated. “We are making some headway.”