Group Sets Hay Production, Marketing
Adversity helped strengthen an Iowa hay production
group's resolve to produce some of the best alfalfa in the world. Farm
Partners Supply, Harlan, IA, is made up of growers who share their time
and talents while striving for success in a variety of ag pursuits. One
facet of their operation includes a razor-sharp focus on producing
world-class alfalfa. The group raises around 2,000 acres of alfalfa,
with big plans for further expansion.
"We are a group of farmers who got together and created a partnership,"
explains Joe Heese, who manages the group's hay inventory and hay-drying
systems, in addition to coordinating hay testing and marketing. Yet not
all went smoothly in the partnership's attempt to use goal-setting to
improve its hay operation. He refers to those challenging times as the
"War of 2004."
A rainy summer and high humidity made it difficult to get hay dry that
year. "We had harvest delays, equipment problems, microbial degradation
of the hay and damage to regrowth," Heese relates. "We were trying to
make dairy hay. But, during 2004, 90% of the hay we produced was grinder
hay, and only 10% was dairy quality. We had to regroup, reassess and
reanalyze. We decided we would not accept production of grinder hay."
The group held a brainstorming session and came up with seven areas
crucial to hay production and marketing successes. Those areas, details
and questions the group identified included:
During 2005, the group addressed many of those questions and challenges.
Six propane-fired hay dryers, designed by Veda Farming Solutions, were
bought. Each dryer holds eighteen 3 x 3 x 8' bales, with a total
capacity for 108 bales. "Our goal for the dryers was to increase the
shelf life of our bales by greatly decreasing microbial degradation,"
Heese explains. "We were able to bale at the 25% moisture range and
worked to reduce bale moisture to around 12% with the dryers. We had
higher leaf retention and worked to capture the maximum relative feed
value possible as hay was cut. The bales spent less time on the field
because we could clean hay off right away. We found we could retain a
deeper green color and could sell dairy hay instead of grinder hay."
- Customers and sales -- Who is the customer? What type of product
does it want? How could the group produce that product?
- Labor availability and planning -- What steps could be taken to make
sure labor is available when hay is ready? How could the group work with
the labor needs that overlapped between the hay operation and the
row-crop part of the operation?
- Storage and quality -- How could hay be stored to maintain quality
and prevent deterioration?
- Incorrect drying procedures -- How could the group compensate for
uncooperative weather conditions?
- Assumptions/estimation for forecasting -- How could the group do a
better job of cutting hay at the right maturity? How can they work to
eliminate weather hazards?
- Equipment mismatch -- The group decided it could do a better job of
making sure it had the right equipment in the right place at the right
time. "We are constantly trying to decide if we should own all of the
equipment, rent some equipment during busy times or utilize custom
harvesting," Heese says.
- Base actions on the knowledge that is gained. Members of the group
spend a lot of time talking to experts. "We are constantly working to
add to our knowledge," he explains. "We gather ideas, test theories and
experiment with new ideas."
The group also bought an NIR testing machine from Perten Instruments to
check hay quality regularly. Heese worked with that company and
Dairyland Laboratories to research testing machines and to get the
machine set up correctly. "We have made a lot of decisions based on our
NIR machine," Heese says. For example, it has helped make changes in
cutting schedules. In 2005, cutting was scheduled based on scissors
tests. "Traditionally, we figured fields would be ready to cut within a
26- to 28-day window." But the NIR test results showed some fields
should be cut around day 21 -- because of highly fertile soils, he
While seeking the best equipment for the job, the group invited
neighbors and equipment dealers to a Cutter Test Day in 2005. Equipment
was set up side by side, and then the hay was cut once down the field
and back. Every windrow was tested for RFV at 24-hour intervals. Heese
says the group has tried to look at every part of the hay-making
process. "When we conducted our cutting tests, we looked at which
machine helps us make the highest-quality hay," he says. "We also
realized the need for consistency when harvesting the hay. We urge the
people driving our equipment to be consistent with speed, gears, etc.,
because it can impact the quality and consistency of the hay." Baler
tests are planned for 2006.
The group also purchased scales to make sure bale weight was consistent,
and to monitor tonnage coming out of the field. The scales also help
determine the consistency of the dryers and aid in making sure trucks
are loaded with the optimum tonnage.
The group didn't find perfect solutions to all of its challenges in
2005, but made progress toward many of its goals, Heese points out.
"Around 60% of our hay was dairy quality in 2005, and 75% of our
production tested between 150 to 230 RFV," he says. Goals for 2006
include perfecting the drying, cutting, raking and baling procedures and
having at least 75% of the hay produced at dairy or horse quality. "We
are going to strive to have sold our lower-quality hay by Dec. 31, too,"
Heese says. The group's five-year goal: to be the largest seller of
world-class alfalfa east of the Missouri River.
Read more about how Farm Partners Supply worked to fine-tune its
hay-drying operation in the January 2006 issue of Hay and Forage Grower.
The article, entitled "World-Class Hay," is available at hayandforage.com/mag/farming_worldclass_hay/.
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CRP Sign-Up Deadline Extended
USDA has extended the sign-up deadlines for both the
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the special CRP re-enrollment and
extension opportunities to April 28. The extension was made because of
sign-up automation problems and to give over-worked county office staff
more time to sign up all who wish to participate, says a USDA Farm
Service Agency (FSA) spokesperson.
After April 28, FSA will evaluate offers based on cost and environmental
benefits. Accepted offers will become effective Oct. 1. FSA county
offices are now notifying CRP participants with contracts expiring in
2008-2010 of their re-enrollment and extension opportunities.
Participants must respond by June 30.
CRP participants voluntarily enroll highly erodible and other fragile
cropland in CRP through long-term contracts of 10-15 years. On the
enrolled land, participants plant grasses, trees and other vegetation.
In exchange, participants receive annual rental payments and a payment
of up to 50% of the cost of establishing conservation covers.
Evaluate Alfalfa Stands This Spring
Midwestern alfalfa growers who haven't already checked
stands for winter injury should do so now, says Stephen Barnhart, Iowa
State University agronomist.
Watch for three kinds of winter injury and winterkill. Plants killed by
long-term ice cover don't green up and taproots and crowns deteriorate.
Plants that have heaved 1" or more may have additional cold injury; if
they recover and produce good spring growth, they are still vulnerable
to cutterbar damage at harvest. Regrowing plants that broke dormancy
during winter often have frozen shoots and still recover well from new
crown buds; plants with root and crown tissues frozen below ground are
often permanently weakened and considered winterkilled.
Predicting cold damage is difficult because soil temperatures are often
warmer than air temperatures, Barnhart says. To make determinations, dig
plants and assess crown and taproot condition. Healthy taproots are
creamy, white and firm in texture. If plants have good taproots and
evidence of bud growth from the crown, they may be recovering well or
more slowly than normal, but recovering. Taproots that are spongy in
texture, or watery and beginning to take on a tan or yellowish color,
are likely severely cold-injured and deteriorating. If you are seeing
signs of this, check fields again in about a week to verify your first
Before harvesting slowly recovering, winter-injured stands, allow the
first growth to reach at least half-bloom, Barnhart suggests.
Stands with less than four healthy plants per square foot will likely
produce marginal yields this year. Plan to plant a replacement field
this year. If you need the forage from the current, damaged field,
consider taking only a first harvest, destroying the damaged stand, and
establishing an emergency forage crop for needed forage, he adds.
An Iowa State University Extension publication, Evaluating Hay and
Pasture Stands for Winter Injury (PM 1362), goes into more detail.
It also identifies some concerns about reseeding and "thickening up" or
"patching in" alfalfa into winterkilled or injured alfalfa fields.
Source: Iowa State University Integrated Crop Management Newsletter.
You can prevent stand loss. You can reduce dry-down time. You can
increase alfalfa forage quality, stand longevity and yield. You can
do it with Raptor® herbicide. Research trials prove that the
superior performance of Raptor controls grasses and broadleaf weeds,
enabling your alfalfa - and your bottom line - to thrive.
The chemical company.
Always read and follow label directions.
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Southern Indiana growers need to start scouting for
alfalfa weevil damage, according to Purdue University entomologists.
Producers can use heat unit accumulation data to determine when sampling
should begin and when management action should be taken. If an
insecticide is required early in the weevil season, producers can use
one with good residual action. Later in the season, insecticides with
short residual should be used, and producers should pay close attention
to harvest restrictions.
Source: Purdue University Pest & Crop Newsletter.
During the past week, many southern and central
Missouri alfalfa fields were sprayed with insecticide to control alfalfa
weevil larvae, says Wayne Bailey, University of Missouri (UM)
entomologist. Weevil damage is moving northward as additional eggs hatch
and larvae grow in size, he reports in UM's Integrated Pest and Crop
Management Newsletter. The bulk of damage should occur in central and
northern Missouri regions within the next 2-3 weeks. In southern
Missouri, producers should continue to scout fields because a second
wave of larvae may yet develop. An insect fungal pathogen, Zoophthora
phytonomi, may still infect and quickly kill alfalfa weevil larvae,
probably in areas of the state where wet conditions persist for several
days. Larvae infected with the fungus will turn from green to light
yellow in color and die within 2-3 days.
Contact Wayne Bailey at 573-882-2838 or 573-864-9905.
With recent warm temperatures, Ohio alfalfa growers
should begin scouting for alfalfa weevils in coming weeks, say Ron
Hammond and Bruce Eisley, Ohio State University (OSU) entomologists.
That's especially true in southern counties, where heat unit
accumulation has reached the 300 heat-unit range needed for eggs to
hatch and feeding to begin. Yet central and northern Ohio growers should
also begin scouting over the next 1-2 weeks. Fields with south-facing
slopes tend to warm sooner, so need to be scouted early.
Rescue treatments can be done when growers see one or more large larvae
per stem on alfalfa that's 12" or less in height. Alfalfa between 12"
and 16" in height needs treatment when 2-4 larvae per stem are sighted
-- depending on the vigor of alfalfa growth, say Hammond and Eisley. See
the OSU Alfalfa Weevil Fact Sheet -- ohioline.osu.edu/ent-fact/0032.html
-- for more on alfalfa weevil scouting and economic thresholds in Ohio.
For a list of insecticides labeled for alfalfa weevil, see entomology.osu.edu/ag/545/aiaw.pdf.
The entomologists say it is still too early to scout for potato
leafhoppers because they don't move into Ohio until May.
Source: Ohio Crop Observation and Recommendation Network newsletter.
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Midwestern Auction Report
Hay prices were steady in Nebraska, according to the
University of Wisconsin's April 14 Midwest Hay Auction Report. Demand
and trade activity were good. Most growers' inventories were nearly if
not totally depleted and the logistics involved in getting hay to
costumers was a major concern. The outlook for new-crop hay was very
In Iowa, prices were mixed to $2.10/ton lower than those cited the
previous week, and demand and sales activity were light to moderate.
Consumers were getting basic needs met while waiting for greener
pastures. Inventory levels were good, but, again, getting the hay to
where it was needed posed a major problem.
South Dakota hay prices were mixed to $5.40/ton higher than the previous
week's prices. Missouri hay prices were mostly steady; hay demand was
light to moderate and supply was light. The southwestern quarter of
Missouri continued to be dry; 80% of its pastures were in poor to very
poor condition and stock water and hay supplies were very short.
Temperatures late last week were to exceed the 90-degree mark. Demand
for cattle hay evaporated in much of the rest of the state, because
cattle have been turned out to pastures. Demand for high-quality horse
and dairy hay continued to be good with a light supply.
Southwestern Minnesota hay prices were $7.85/ton higher than prices from
the week before. Sales activity was good. There were no reports for
Wisconsin or Illinois hay prices or sales activity.
Midwestern hay price averages and ranges in various categories were as
Prime Hay (> 151 RFV/RFQ):
Small square bale prices averaged $117.39/ton and ranged from $70 to
$150/ton. Large square bales averaged $105/ton, ranging from $60/ton to
$160/ton. Round bales brought an average price of $82/ton and ranged
from $60/ton to $95/ton.
Grade 1 Hay (125-150 RFV/RFQ):
Small square bales averaged $52/ton. Large square bales averaged
$69/ton, ranging from $50/ton to $102/ton. Round bales averaged $58/ton,
and sold from $45/ton to $87/ton.
Grade 2 Hay (103-124 RFV/RFQ):
Large square bales brought an average price of $60/ton, ranging from
$47/ton to $80/ton. Round bales averaged $56.25/ton, with a minimum
price of $32.50/ton and a top price of $80/ton.
Midwestern straw prices for small squares averaged $2.41/bale, ranging
from $1.50 to $3.50. Large squares averaged $27/bale and ranged from $20
to $45; and round bales averaged $18.75 each, with a low price of $15
and a top price of $23. Compared to previous-week straw sales, small
square prices were up 6%. Large square prices were down 25%, and round
bales, down 28%.
Source: University of Wisconsin.
New Mexico hay growers can expect record hay prices
this year, but supplies will be limited, says Doug Whitney, Roswell. "In
southeastern New Mexico we have not had but one-tenth of 1" of rain in
eight months," he says. "Marketwise, most hay is committed, but prices
have not yet been set. This also is working in the farmer's favor
because continued drought is causing cereal grains for silage to be off
in yield. And mid-March brought us several nights of 23 degrees or less,
causing first cutting to stop growing."
No hay is available anywhere, including lesser qualities, Whitney says.
He predicts hay will be in high demand throughout this year because of
drought. Water in Whitney's area is metered, he adds. "This is the fifth
year of our five-year term, where we have to meet the balance of our
contract. Some farmers have overused and will have to cut back this year
to avoid stiff fines and penalties. Many fields will be laid out after
the first two cuttings to save water, and cotton acreage will be
increased this year. Corn silage acreage will be off for these
Other reasons for higher hay prices in Whitney's area: "Dairies are
squirming with the forecast fall in milk prices, partly due to
overproduction," he says. "Out-of-state markets are stronger than ever,
with drought situations in other states causing huge demand for
high-quality New Mexico hay."
Contact Whitney at 505-622-8080.
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**April 19-20 -- 2006 Mid-South Ruminant Nutrition
Conference, Arlington Hilton at Dallas-Fort Worth International
Airport. Sponsored by Texas A&M University Extension Service and the
Texas Animal Nutrition Council. Contact Ellen Jordan at 972-952-9201 or
**April 21-23 -- Midwest Horse Fair, Alliant Energy Center,
Madison, WI. Learn more at www.midwesthorsefair.com.
**April 28-30 -- Minnesota Horse Expo, Minnesota State
Fairgrounds, St. Paul. Learn more at www.mnhorseexpo.org.
**May 4 -- Beef Cattle and Forage Crops Field Day, Kansas State
University, Southeast Agricultural Research Center, Mound Valley, KS.
Contact Lyle Lomas at 620-421-4826, ext. 12, or email@example.com, or visit www.oznet.ksu.edu/rc_serec/events.htm.
**May 9 -- University of California-Davis Alfalfa/Forage & Small
Grains Field Day, UC-Davis Agronomy Farm Field Headquarters,
Hutchison Road. Take Hutchison Road 1/3 mile west from Hwy. 113 near
Davis and look for headquarters on left.
**May 25 -- University of Florida Corn Silage and Forage Field
Day, Plant Science Unit, Citra, FL. Contact Jerry Wasdin at
352-392-1120 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or
Under "Dairy Cattle," click on "Corn Silage Field Day."
**June 14-15 -- Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management
Conference, Grand River Center, Dubuque, IA. Call Dave Fischer,
618-692-9434 or Leo Timms, 515-294-4522.
**Sept. 7-9 -- National Hay Association 111th Annual Convention,
Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole, WY. Call 800-707-0014 or visit www.nationalhay.org.
**Sept. 12 -- Kentucky Forage And Grassland Council Field Day,
Dobbs Shady Meadow Farm, Campbell County. Learn more at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage.
**Oct. 3-7 -- World Dairy Expo, Alliant Energy Center, Madison,
WI. Learn more at www.worlddairyexpo.com.
**Nov. 21 -- Kentucky Grazing Conference, Fayette County
Extension Office, Lexington. Learn more at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage.
**Dec. 11-13 -- Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference, Reno, NV.
For more information, contact Dan Putnam at 530-752-8982 or email@example.com, or Glenn
Shewmaker at 208-736-3608 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
** Jan. 18-19 -- Southwest Hay Conference, Ruidoso Convention
Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico For more info, contact Doug Whitney at email@example.com, or call Gina
Sterrett at 505-626-5677.
**Jan. 24-25 -- Heart of America Grazing Conference, Holiday Inn,
Mount Vernon, IL. Learn more from Garry Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext.
202 or firstname.lastname@example.org
**Feb. 27 -- Kentucky Alfalfa Conference, Cave City Convention
Center. Learn more at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage.
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