Keith moves from forage to seedstock producersWritten by Heather Hamilton
Casper – As the Livestock and Forage Program Manager for the Wyoming Business Council, Scott Keith has been responsible for shedding light on Wyoming’s high-quality hay, a nationwide contender in marketability.
However, Keith is now moving on to a new chapter in his career with the Business Council as the Livestock Genetics Program Manager.
“I worked at the concept of trying to open markets for Wyoming hay in higher quality markets,” Keith explains of his work over the last seven to eight years.
Keith began in the forage program by developing a much more active hay show at the Wyoming State Fair, which included converting class titles from common names such as “alfalfa” to a relative feed value basis.
“Regardless of cut, relative feed value, or relative forage quality, are very valuable, and make more sense as a means of separating classes,” says Keith.
Five years ago Keith took two samples of Wyoming hay to the World Dairy Forage Expo in Wisconsin where the World Forage Analysis Super Bowl is held for entries from across the nation. The event has been held for the past 25 years and the samples from Wyoming placed second and fifth overall in the commercial hay category, pleasantly surprising Keith.
Since then Wyoming has been a powerhouse at the competition, having either the World Champion Forage Producer or the World Champion Commercial Forage Producer four out of the last five years. On two separate years the state also took first through fifth place in commercial hay.
“The Expo’s been great for the state of Wyoming’s hay producers, and what Scott Keith has done for the hay industry is unreal. I don’t think people are aware the time and effort he’s put into this,” comments Erv Gara of Wyoming Haybusters in Torrington.
These impressive performances have helped Keith aid producers in marketing their hay to higher markets. Dairy producers were among the first willing to pay more for Wyoming’s hay.
“Milk production is really dependant on hay quality,” explains Keith. “Most ranchers have a hard time paying over $100 per ton. Last year some dairies were paying between $240 and $250 per ton delivered.”
Hay producers were making between $10 and $20 more per ton over selling to beef cow producers. “When you take that amount times thousands or hundreds of thousands of tons produced each year, it really adds up,” notes Keith.
A drought in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico in 2005 and 2006 also helped Wyoming sell to southern dairies.
“My Wisconsin contacts from the Forage Exposition helped with this,” says Keith, but it was he who put buyers in contact with Riverton and Torrington area producers. “All of a sudden all the hay carried over from the previous year disappeared and prices rose locally.”
Keith is also experienced in marketing Wyoming horse hay, which isn’t sold on forage quality but on “green and pretty,” says Keith.
In the summer of 2006 he traveled to Lexington, Ky., Akon, S.C. and Camdon, S.C. to find potential hay markets. Each of these locations has a very horse-specific population, making them prime marketing locations.
“You think dairies pay a lot for hay, you wouldn’t believe what these people will spend,” says Keith, noting that small square bales of orchard grass/alfalfa mix hay could go for $14 each. “Making those trips allowed me to open doors for people who raise the right type and quality of hay,” he adds.
Throughout these ventures Keith has worked extensively with a Hay Advisory Committee, which is a group of producers, one from each major hay-producing area in the state.
“I received input from them. That’s how I identified the markets I went to and the changes I made,” says Keith. “Their input also drove what the Wyoming State Fair hay show looks like.”
All the while Keith has also worked with seedstock producers at the industry level.
“This new position is different in that I will be working at a more one-on-one level with producers. I was able to pass the torch on the forage program, which was taking about 70 percent of my time,” says Keith. “Now I can concentrate on the seedstock people at a more personal level.”
One request of the seedstock industry on which Keith has been concentrating is helping producers better understand marketing. By this he isn’t referring to physical advertising, but rather teaching them development of personal relations and helping to design marketing plans.
Keith has found the process to be “awakening” for producers with whom he’s already met. Prior to meeting he sends a 10-page, “thought provoking” questionnaire. This saves time and ensures everyone is one the same page at the meeting. “It’s kicking off pretty strong. I see a lot of producers who are very interested,” he says.
“If you buy a bull from someone and he doesn’t turn out and the breeder never calls you, odds are you won’t go back. But if you have a personal relationship with the breeder, you will feel comfortable discussing both the positive and negative results of your purchases with him and he is less likely to lose your business,” says Keith. “Seedstock producers are concerned about negative feedback, but need to realize that personal relationships are important.”
“You can’t do it in a large, tradeshow type setting. I’m doing a series of seminars around the state,” says Keith of the format. These are set up from now through February and will be put on in conjunction with Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley and Larry Gran of Pfizer Animal Genetics. The seminars are titled “Seedstock Marketer’s Toolbox” and will be an invitation-only event. There will also be an opportunity at each seminar to schedule an appointment to meet with Keith one-on-one.
Don Randall took over the forage aspect of Keith’s position and is now the Crop and Forage Program Manager for the Wyoming Business Council. He is a past Pine Bluffs agriculture teacher and hopes to continue helping Wyoming producers find markets for their hay.
“My biggest goal is to continue the legacy that Allan Gray and Scott Keith have been able to create,” he states. He says additional goals include expanding the hay website and developing a closer network with producers.