Joe and Sheryl Vopat, Hamilton, KS, harvest 2,000 acres of native prairie grass as well as 400 acres of alfalfa in what they call one of the most scenic -- and historic -- areas of the world. It's called the Flint Hills.

"We are in one of the last three tall-grass prairies in the world," says Sheryl. Joe credits the Flint Hills, named for a type of rock found embedded in the limestone that forms the hills, with producing some of the best hay their customers have ever seen.

"I sold all of this past year's hay untested and got top dollar for it," from beef cattle and dairy heifer operators, he says. A single cutting of the grass hay is taken off each year. During a dry year, it yields 1-1¾ tons and is baled into round or medium square bales. He charged $80-85/ton on the first round bales produced, and $75/ton for later-cut hay. Square bales went for $105/ton.

Much of last year's alfalfa went to dairy and beef operations in Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. "The last five loads went to a feedlot in Kansas, and that guy said it was the best-looking alfalfa delivered there," Joe says.

He carries a moisture tester in each tractor and checks hay up to 10 times a day. "I live and die by the moisture tester to ensure quality. I like to bale hay at 14-15.5%."

Only three rather than the usual four or five alfalfa cuttings were taken last year because of dry weather. "When you end up with three cuttings, the price goes up," Sheryl says. "Everybody else had raised their prices and we were trying to blend in. You don't want to price-gouge because you know they're hurting. But our fuel prices have gone up."

At this point, customers come to them and they haven't run a newspaper ad for three years. When they did need customers, they checked weather reports. "Wherever there was a drought, we'd drive around and pick up some of the local papers and run ads," Joe explains. That won't be necessary this coming season. "I have had five new calls for new-crop hay already. I said I'm not going to do anything until I know that we'll grow it."

To contact the Vopats, call 620-678-3482.