Making an effort to follow up with customers after you deliver hay is an important step in developing an overall hay marketing strategy, says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin extension forage agronomist.

He recommends calling or emailing buyers a few weeks after each delivery, asking how the product is being accepted by their animals and if there’s any room for improvement. “If the customer is satisfied and you have more hay to sell, ask if they need more hay or know of any other potential buyers you might contact,” says Undersander. “A lot of business gets done by word of mouth.”

This kind of approach sets the stage for developing long-term business relationships with customers. “Repeat business is what you’re after,” he says. “When you deal with the same people year after year, you get a better understanding of how they work, what kind of product and services are most important to them and that they will pay their bills. That leads to more efficiency. With an established clientele as a base, you can keep reaching out for new customers to the extent you have a hay supply.”

As another component of marketing, Undersander advises determining what kind of bale packages are most likely to appeal to customers. “You need to do that before you begin harvesting.” He points out that large round bales are generally more difficult to transport than either small or large squares. “So if you put up round bales, you’ll probably limit yourself to more of a local market.”

In the Upper Midwest, hay packaged in square bales typically brings $30/ton more than round-bale hay of the same quality, Undersander notes. “Last year, the spread was more like $50/ton. That’s pretty significant. If you’re set up to only make round bales, it might be worthwhile to hire someone else to put up the hay you intend to sell as square bales in order to get that additional value.”

Undersander also encourages hay growers to take advantage of new Web-based technologies in developing marketing strategies. “There are a growing number of free or low-cost listing services on the Web where you can let people know you have hay to sell,” he says. “In some cases, having your own farm Web site might be beneficial. It really doesn’t cost that much. Even small, local hardware stores now have a Web presence.”

Undersander’s bottom line: “By developing a marketing plan, rather than simply trying to sell a commodity, you stand to increase the volume of hay sold and the price you get for your product.”

To contact Undersander, call 608-263-5070 or email djunders@wisc.edu.