Paul Peterson always checks the nutrient analyses of top-finishing World Forage Analysis Superbowl entries.

“I think you can do a better job if you know what you’re aiming for,” he says.

This 75-year-old hay grower from American Fork, UT, won the annual contest’s commercial hay division in 1995 and 2007 and has been among the top five finalists in that division six or seven times in the past 15 or so years.

“It has been very educational. It gives you an idea of how your product compares to others from throughout the country,” Peterson says. “It’s good to know where you stand and if you’re doing things that benefit consumers like dairy farmers.

Local dairies and horse owners buy the large and small square bales taken off his 225 acres of alfalfa. He sells most of the first three cuttings, then his beef-cow herd grazes the fourth. The cattle also get part of the production from 130 acres of a forage mixture, with a few hundred tons being sold to a 1,000-head rodeo producer.

To do well in the contest, he pinpoints a field with potential to produce superior-quality hay. Alfalfa targeted for the dairy market, and for the Forage Superbowl, is cut by early bud stage. Timely raking and weather conditions that permit fast drying to retain nutrients and color are critical for producing contest-quality hay.

“So much has to come together to do well,” says Peterson.

Thanks to north-central Utah’s climate, the third cutting usually delivers the highest-quality hay, so his Superbowl entry always comes from that cutting.

“We’re at 5,200’, and we usually have warm days and cool nights that time of year. The first cutting would be all right, too, but the third is pretty potent stuff. Horse people don’t care for the third cutting, but the dairymen love it.”

Peterson placed ninth in commercial hay last year, with an alfalfa sample that tested 22.3% crude protein, 26.8% ADF and 31.8% NDF, with a 175 relative forage quality score. This year he plans to enter a sample from a Roundup Ready field that so far “looks beautiful,” hoping to reclaim his spot in the top five.

“We’ll do the best we can,” he says.