With more and more people in rural areas using the Internet to conduct business (see Numbers Of Note, March 10 issue), hay growers need to be open to new ways of advertising and marketing their products, says Don Brown, Jr., a hay grower and hay and straw dealer from Davis, IL. Brown is also president of the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council.

“We’ve advertised in farm newspapers and magazines over the years,” says Brown, who with his wife, Sandee, operates under the business name of D & S Brown Farms. “But like everybody else, we’re trying to watch what we’re spending on advertising more closely. We’re also concerned that newspapers may not be around in a couple of years the way things are going.”

This year, Brown put a hay-for-sale listing on Craigslist, www.craigslist.org, an online classified ad service, for the first time. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” he says. “But I put the ad up. After about 20 minutes, I sold two semi loads of beef- and horse-quality hay. Both of the sales were within an hour of home.”

Placing an ad on Craigslist is free, Brown notes. “It does take a little time to get familiar with how the site works. You also have to monitor it closely because as more ads are placed, your listing moves farther down the list. We’re learning. It’s definitely something we’ll use more.”

Brown has also started making use of listing services developed and maintained by public agencies, such as the University of Wisconsin’s Farmer to Farmer Web site, farmertofarmer.uwex.edu, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Hay and Straw Directory, www.agr.state.il.us/markets/hay. “We try to do a little research ahead of time and then target our listings to where it looks like there’s a need for what we have,” he says.

The Browns devote 300 acres of their 600-acre farm to hay production, putting up alfalfa, mixed alfalfa-grass and straight grass hay in 3 x 3 x 8’ bales. In a typical year, about 30% of their hay sales are to dairies, 30% to beef operations and 30% to horse owners. The remaining 10% of sales are to a variety of markets, including alpaca owners and circuses. The Browns have a fleet of three trucks to deliver in their target market area of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. When they get calls for hay farther afield – Indiana and Tennessee – they contract with other truckers.

While dairy-quality alfalfa hay (RFV of 150-160) in the Browns’ area fetched $165-180/ton throughout the fall and into the early winter, prices have dropped to around $145/ton. “And we’re trying to move it,” he says. “After the first of the year, people started emptying their barns, and there was a lot of hay and straw moving at the local auctions.” Depending on quality, horse hay is bringing $110-185/ton and beef hay is selling for $60-120/ton.

To contact Brown, phone 815-238-8372 or email don.brownjr@yahoo.com.