Hay marketing is serious business, sure. But sometimes you just have to let your hair down. So it is in the town of Rock Valley, IA, population 3,300, where the local Chamber of Commerce and the Rock Valley Hay Auction are readying for the annual Hay Day celebration this Thursday, March 31.

“It’s a way for us to kick back a little bit and have some fun at the end of a long sales season,” says auction owner Paul McGill, who notes that the event dates back to the 1960s. “It also gives us a way to say thank you to all of our customers and to the townspeople for putting up with all the hay trucks that run through town on auction days.”

The auction’s regularly scheduled Thursday sale this week will be held on Rock Valley’s Main Street. “We just park the trucks in the middle of the street and then the crowd goes from load to load to bid,” explains McGill. “Local merchants get involved by offering special Hay Day promotions and sales, and they also have a hamburger fry.”

The auction owner will hand out award/recognition certificates and conduct a strap-tossing contest, in which contestants get three chances to toss a tie-down over a load of hay. Three judges determine the winner based on accuracy and how the strap hangs over the load. “It was something we tried for the first time last year,” says McGill. “People really had a lot of fun with it.”

Volume at Rock Valley’s twice a week (Monday and Thursday) auctions has been fairly consistent since the first of the year, McGill notes. “We’ve had a good amount of hay and straw moving through. The quality, though, has been way down from other years.”

Prices have reflected the poorer quality. “The trend has been steady to slightly lower. The majority of alfalfa has been selling at around $75-95/ton, while the bulk of the grass hay has been bringing $65-85/ton. (The price) really hasn’t moved much all year. Of course, if we had better-quality hay, we’d be seeing better prices.”

Local feedlots haven’t been switching to feeding more hay in their rations, and that’s a surprise to McGill. “I really don’t understand it given how the cost of other commodities has been rising.”

The big question now, he says, is whether there will be a bump in prices before the start of the new crop year. “We usually see the market start to strengthen a little bit going into the spring. That’s the normal. But, then again, there really hasn’t been much in the way of normal so far this year.”

To contact McGill, call 712-470-1274 or email paulm@rockvalleyhay.com.