Ken Little and his family won't be cutting back on hay to take advantage of high corn prices, either. In fact, they plan to plant more hay this year than ever before. "We figure when the corn market comes back down to earth in two or three years, we'll be that much farther along in the hay industry," says Little, of Wapakoneta, OH.
With his brother Bob and Wilbur, their dad, Little drove to last week's Midwest Hay Business Conference to learn more about hay marketing. Until four years ago, he grew 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, but he and Bob, who also farms, were thinking about getting into the hay business. "We decided there was a lot more money to be made in hay than there was in corn and beans," Little recalls. "We actually started by baling our own wheat straw and that branched out into baling neighbors' wheat straw. We baled about 20,000 bales a year for three years and that went a long way toward paying for our start-up equipment."
The Littles planted hay crops each of the past three years, starting with 20 acres of alfalfa-timothy in 2004. They quickly learned that the horse market was more interested in grass than in alfalfa-grass mixtures, so new seedings are all grass. They plan to plant 100 acres this year, bringing their total to 190 acres. They've got pure stands of fescue, timothy and orchardgrass and will try some teff in 2007.
They sell their 55-lb bales to horse interests in Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma. Little averaged $2.75/bale the first year, $2.90 the second and about $3.05 for the 2006 crop. He expects to do even better this year. "We're finding better markets, we're doing a better job at producing quality hay, and I have a fairly good notion that some hay acres are going to go to corn this year, so I expect hay to trend up also," he says.
Harvesting hay multiple times vs. just once for corn and soybeans is a big plus in Little's view. "With corn and soybeans, if something goes wrong once, you're done for the whole harvest," he says. "With hay, we may get too much water or we may get drought on one cutting, but we've still got a couple more chances. That's why we like hay."