Hay grower John Atkinson of Trails End Farm, Kingdom City, MO, will have plenty to report when he sends out his annual customer letter early next month. Likely topics will include his purchase of a new round baler with bale wrapping/netting features; how rising input costs, especially fuel and fertilizer, could force him to increase prices this year; and how a 2010 bluegrass infestation (caused by wet weather) led him to cut back on the number of acres he plans to harvest this year.

“It’s a way of keeping our long-time customers informed about what’s going on in the business. They like to feel involved,” Atkinson says of the letter. Along with his wife, Mary Lou, he’ll grow bromegrass hay on 70 acres in 2011, down from 100 acres last year. They put up most of their hay in small square bales but also make large rounds when weather affects quality.

Atkinson uses the letter to remind customers to place orders by the end of the month for the coming year. “We fill the orders according to when they come in,” he explains. “We load up right behind the baler, and with bromegrass, the hay that’s cut earlier in the season is usually higher quality. After the order deadline, we open things up for new customers. In a typical year, we’re usually all sold out before September.”

As another way of keeping in touch with customers, he sends out calendars in October. The calendars, produced by a Florida company, feature photos of traditional barn scenes from around the U.S. “It’s something that appeals to a lot of horse owners,” says Atkinson, noting that he pays $3 each for the calendars and another 60¢ each for mailing. “Many of them have a kind of nostalgic idea about farms and farming.”

The company Atkinson works with requires a minimum order of 100 calendars, more than he needs to ensure that each customer gets one. He takes the leftovers to local feed and tack stores. “They let me put them on their sales counters for their customers,” he says. “Along with the barn photos, there’s also contact information for our farm on the calendars. It’s another way of letting people know about us.”

To contact Atkinson, call 573-592-7239 or email atkinsonj@socket.net.