cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Blacksandfarmer
Veteran Advisor

Hay or row crops?

Just a little background on our farming operation. My wife and I farm 170 acres, a little more if you include custom tillage and custom harvesting. We have no livestock at this time. We do have a small seed dealership and we both work off farm jobs. I have a couple friends who farm both row crops and bale hay and they suggest maybe I look into hay production rather than row crops. Its got me thinking about it. I love raising row crops. There's nothing like running good corn in the fall! The tough part about row crops is the amount of money needed for good equipment and land. We own 80 acres and lease the rest from family members. A guy used to be able to acquire more land whether it be buying or leasing just 5 years ago. Now days with a certain mega farm and investment group moving into the area, its made it near impossible to find more land. We do have a decent hay market just south of me in Northern Indiana. When I was younger I put hay up for a neighbor, but I have never raised it myself. I have raised cattle in the past but I have been out of the cattle business for a while and have considered getting back into it. I really don't want to spend my time thinking about the other guy so I'm spending my time and effort looking into ways of diversifying our farm to one day make it a full time career. From those who raise alfalfa, what is your opinion? Thanks

0 Kudos
7 Replies
RJG640v8
Advisor

Re: Hay or row crops?

The hay biz is as tough as any other. 

A few questions , or things to consider;

do your soil types support and work with alfalfa

do you have inside storage

do you have a way to transport it to your customers

do you have good labs to send samples, for nutritional data

what market , small squares/ rounds / big squares

what kind of pests will you need to deal with

what machinery will you need to purchase, do the dealers in your area support it

Can you get it put up the right way, considering your other commitments( people that buy hay typically want it in very good condition, i.e. No rain, no mold...)

 

if if you do it , make sure and get a discbine, a good tedder, a speed rake, and equip the baler with a preservative applicator.

 

 

 

bikinkawboy
Veteran Contributor

Re: Hay or row crops?

The previous poster did a good job of listing things to think about.  One thing about good quality alfalfa is that there's always a market for it regardless of whether it's a good hay year or a poor one.  Dairies can be dependable markets and once you get a name for being a dependable supplier of good quality hay, you won't have to go looking for new buyers again.  Large square or round bales are usually desired, although big round bales can be problematic for hauling and storage.  Crazy horse people will pay good money for alfalfa or timothy for their beloved pets and small square bales are usually preferred. 

 

Keep in mind that alfalfa doesn't like wet or poorly drained soils, so if that describes your soils, best you forget the idea now before you throw a bunch of money into it.  In the Midwest, the first cutting of alfalfa can be a race against rain, so hay preservatives are certainly worth looking into.  The large gray tarps can be good for outdoor storage, but are best for short term rather than long term (into the next year.)  You will also want to put down a heavy layer of coarse gravel to promote good drainage.  My experience in Missouri has been that even when you put down plastic onto rock hard dirt during a drought, by spring moisture will have wicked itself under and through the plastic, resulting in mud below moisture soaked bottoms of bales. 

0 Kudos
RJG640v8
Advisor

Re: Hay or row crops?

bikinkawboy added more depth and hit all good points to know and think about.

 

I will add that you will need to have a system of rotating your hay inventory so that you have a "first in" first out" plan, and I find it very helpful to segregate 1st crop from second crop, second crop from 3rd crop and so on. You can then target different customers and segments of your customer base with what their current and timely needs are.

You will need to build a rounded base of customers........... beef cows can utilize a less nutrionally dense, coarser type of hay due to the fact that their stomach is larger in proportion to their body size than a dairy breed. Lactating cows have different needs than dry cows. Calves do better on a grassy hay than alfalfa... Horses need dust / mold free hay....

 

Good luck !

0 Kudos
Blacksandfarmer
Veteran Advisor

Re: Hay or row crops?

Thank you both for the replies. I will start going to local hay auctions starting next week. I want to see what the customers really demand. I have access to barns for equipment storage, but not for hay storage, at least not yet. If I got into the hay business I would want to provide quality alfalfa for cattle growers. To be honest I don't really think I have the patients to deal with all of the horse owners. Ive seen plenty of them walk into the local elevator and demand one thing or the other and I just don't see myself doing well with that lol. We have sandy loam for dirt with muck in spots, so storing hay on ground that don't flood is generally not a concern. Do any of you wrap round bales with plastic to keep moisture out? I'm thinking that could help with my storage issue until we could afford a large hay barn. Ive been told alfalfa stands don't dry very fast so it seems most guys are mixing an orchard grass or timothy with the alfalfa. What do you do? As a previous hay customer when I raised cattle, I liked bales that had plenty of leaves on the alfalfa, so it would be nice not to use a tedder. Is there a way around using a tedder? On average we typically will get a rain event here about once a week in the summer.  

 

There are many things I need to consider before making a switch to a different crop, and I know I have lots of homework to do. I enjoy row crops but the future of a small crop farmer to expand into full time farming is tough unless you are willing to bid up ground already being farmed. I'm looking more into the aspects of farming that most of the big guys don't want to do, and farming ground that most don't want to farm.

0 Kudos
bikinkawboy
Veteran Contributor

Re: Hay or row crops?

Sounds like your soils may good for alfalfa.  With alfalfa, you almost need to harvest it by the calendar.  In north central Missouri, in a perfect world we'd bale the middle of May through September, every month. 

Trying to put up hay in May can be trying though because it rains every 3 days but it takes 4 days to cure hay that time of year.  Several people around here have purchased the bale wrappers that turn hay into

a long, white sausage.  Dry hay will keep for several years as long as the plastic stays intact.  You can also wrap up wet hay and once inside the plastic, it ferments into haylage, making excellent forage.  Coons

sometimes rip holes in the plastic where it meets the ground and one oxygen enters, the hay rots.  The wrappers are expensive and if you hire someone, you better figure about $8 a bale.  But $8 invested in super

quality alfafa is pretty cheap when you consider how much less rained on alfalfa is worth.  Most wrappers are made for big round bales, not sure it you can wrap the large rectangular bales. 

 

As for tedders, I don't have one but I wish I did.  They set in the weeds in dry weather, but in early spring or rained on hay they are great.  As for leaf loss, you want to ted the hay before it's dry enough for the leaves

to fall off.  If the hay is dry enough for the leaves to fall off, you likely don't need to ted it.  Tedders help dry wet hay but aren't needed when the hay is dry.

 

Often times the first cutting of alfalfa is damaged by alfalfa weevil eating the leaves.  Insecticides can be used, but if at all possible, it's better to harvest the hay instead.  Considering the time of year that usually occurs,

that's when you often have slow drying conditions and the preservative-sausage casing alternatives really pay off.  When I replant my next alfalfa, I am strongly looking at Roundup Ready varieties.  Sure makes keeping

hay weed free easier.  Good alfalfa seed is expensive, but don't cheap out and buy the cheap stuff.  Corn farmers don't buy cheap seed developed in the 1940s-50s, so don't do the same with alfalfa.  The same goes for

orchardgrass.  Potomac was developed in the 50s and while inexpensive, newer varieties don't have the rust problems it does.  Newer varieties are also 7-10 days later in maturity, which is really desirable considering

around here Potomac is heading out the last week of April.  As soon as grasses start heading out, the nutritional value really drops.  

0 Kudos
RJG640v8
Advisor

Re: Hay or row crops?

as with any and all things farming everyone has their way of doing things........  I use a mix of 2/3 alfalfa  1/3 timothy.  Reasons for doing so are that the grass helps to hold up the alfalfa and limit lodging ( pure alfalfa will lodge and go down ). I also like to have grass in the background so that as the alfalfa dies out it becomes more grass and I have quite a few calves every year to get started on roughage when they come off the mama cows. I also supply a few small / hobby beef farmers that don't need straight alfalfa. In my case, I use for my own needs about 80% of what I put up and I sell about 15% , and I hold about 5% for just in case..... 

 

as mentioned by bikinkawboy, seed is expensive, but don't scrimp on it, and find varieties that work for your locale and soils. I use Dairyland Seed hybriforce 2400 and 3400 and have been very pleased. 

 

In my area ( SO and SC WI ) when people see that you have "hay" its like moths to a light, i beat quite a few away with a stick so that I can take care of my repeat known customers....... always somebody looking for hay

0 Kudos
Jim Meade / Iowa City
Senior Advisor

Re: Hay or row crops?

You've received some useful and thoughtful answers.  I used to raise hay but don't anymore because I found it too hard to fit the harvest cycle into my other operations and as has been pointed out, the preference for the very best quality hay is very strong.  I was a little guy and found it to be a bit of a cut-throat business to produce top-quality hay and keep the markets.  I decided I didn't want to play that game.  If you can produce top hay year in and year out, you'll likely do well.  Otherwise, you may be looking at a shifting customer base.

I agree with your ideas on horse owners.  I literally want their money before the drove out the driveway.  They were always wanting one more thing - can you load it?  Can  you deliver it free?  Can you bring it Sunday morning?  Plus, horses and exotics are fickle - if they go out of fashion, there goes your buyer.

A question you did not ask might be how to improve your income on the acres you have - is there a different crop or business model besides row crops and hay?  Selling straw for landscapers, growing flower or specialty seed, orchards and so forth.  All of these have their own drawbacks and issues but some people make them work.

 

0 Kudos