Opportunities to market hay as cash crop

Producers that have been fortunate enough to receive adequate precipitation can capitalize on hay marketing opportunities.

Drought conditions across Michigan and throughout the Midwest have left many livestock producers short of hay. Over the last few years many hay acres have been planted to cash grain crops. Combining fewer acres in hay production with decreased forage yields, the supply of hay is low. Consequently, hay prices are strong and in demand. Some areas have received adequate rainfall and are harvesting yields that will allow excess forage production for sale.

Producers that have the opportunity to harvest forages for sale should consider management to increase yield and quality. If rainfall has been plentiful and yield potential is higher than normal, increasing fertilizer applications may increase yields and profits. Producers should consider fertilizing for yield potential. Many producers attempt to promote legume growth with fertilizer applications of phosphorous and potassium but do not use nitrogen to feed the grasses. If legumes account for less than 65 percent of the forage stand, nitrogen application will increase forage yield. In these situations consider fertilizers like ammonium sulfate as sulfur may also stimulate alfalfa growth.

Drought shortened forage supplies typically results in producers making as much hay as possible. Much of this hay will be harvested in late maturity. Higher quality forages harvested in pre- and early bloom are likely to be in shortest supply and allow for higher prices. Making efforts to harvest the highest quality forages possible will allow producers to receive higher prices and improve profits.

Marketing hay can be challenging. Bale form is vital if attempting to sell hay any distance from the farm. Large and small square bales are the most conducive bale form for loading on semi-trailers to transport. Large round bales typically leave too much empty space and do not carry enough weight per load. Tightly made, dense bales will also increase the tonnage of hay per truck load. Transportation costs are an important factor to be considered in the production of hay for sale.

Finding the buyers of hay is another important factor required for success. Many producers are not experienced in marketing hay and should use the Michigan Hay Sellers List as a resource. As a hay marketer, producers should identify the hay by cutting, cutting date and stage of maturity. Ideally forage analysis is the best indicator of quality and can be an excellent marketing tool.

For more information on the production and marketing of forages, contact Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Educators Frank Wardynski at 906-884-4386 or Jerry Lindquist at 231-832-6139.

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