Look for changes to come about at two long-time, quality-tested hay auctions in Wisconsin during the upcoming winter auction season.

The Sheboygan County Forage Council (SCFC) recently announced that, while it will continue holding monthly auctions from December through April, quality testing will no longer be featured.

Cost was one factor in the forage council's decision to discontinue the tested component of the auctions, according to Mike Ballweg, ag agent for University of Wisconsin Extension in Sheboygan County. He also serves as an advisor to SCFC. "We were paying someone to do the testing," he says. "And with the volume of hay we've been getting at each auction in recent years, it's been harder and harder to justify that cost."

The Sheboygan tested auctions date back to 1987, Ballweg notes. The first winter, around 130 loads of hay were sold at five auctions. By 2000, the number of loads had dropped off to just more than 80 per season. In 2009/10 and 2010/11, an average of just 15 loads moved through the auctions each season.

"It was up and down throughout the years, but the overall trend was a gradual and steady decline," says Ballweg. "A lot of it has to do with the changing nature of farming in the area. For a variety of reasons, we're just not seeing as much dry hay being produced these days."

When the auctions were started, he adds, organizers had two major objectives in mind. "Relative feed value was a new concept at the time, and we saw the tested auctions as a way to educate people. Mostly, we wanted them to see the connection between hay value and quality. The second objective was simply to establish a local market for sellers and buyers. I think we've met both of those objectives over the years."

This winter, the SCFC second-Wednesday-of-the-month auctions will still take place at Chissy's Pub & Grill parking lot, Waldo, WI. The starting time, though, will be noon rather than 1 p.m., as in past years. "We won't need the additional time for the testing anymore, and we figured an earlier start would be more convenient for many people attending the auctions."

Changes are also in store for the Dodge County Forage Council (DCFC) quality-tested auctions at Beaver Dam. Earlier this year, the auctioneer decided to take his business in a new direction, so the auction facility is no longer available.

For awhile, says Matt Hanson, Ballweg's UW-Extension counterpart in Dodge County, there was talk about discontinuing the auctions altogether. "But a lot of our board members are passionate about keeping the auctions going. They remain convinced that the auctions are valuable for a variety of reasons, including serving as a pricing point for local hay sales."

DCFC is trying to find a new site and hopes to get auctions running again in January. For further developments, Hanson advises monitoring the DCFC Web site.

To contact Mike Ballweg, call 920-459-5900 or email michael.ballweg@ces.uwex.edu. Matt Hanson can be contacted at 920-386-3790 or matt.hanson@ces.uwex.edu.