About 40 hay-sale complaints -- concerning payments, quality or quantity issues -- were handled by Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) investigators during this year's hay season. The value of those disputed hay sales is more than $180,000. Growers and consumers are complaining about hay dealers who are not licensed and bonded by the department.

"Some producers have been duped out of thousands of dollars. Our goal is to resolve payment disputes and get growers paid quickly," says Kirk Robinson, manager of WSDA's Commission Merchants Program, which deals with hay dealer licensing and bonding.

Robinson urges growers to do business with buyers they have confidence in and to make sure the method of payment is agreed upon before the hay leaves the farm. "The most important step growers can take to protect themselves is to deal with licensed and bonded hay dealers," he says. "For commercial-size loads, we encourage growers to call us to see if there's a history of complaints on the buyer."

Washington growers can call WSDA at 509-249-6961 in Yakima or 360-902-1854 in Olympia to discuss problems. They also can visit www.agr.wa.gov to verify hay dealers' licenses. (Click on Inspection Services and then Commission Merchants.)