When Richard Larsen recently sold nearly $2 million worth of hay to a company in China, he gave all the credit to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Ron Anderson, a hay grower and shipper from Ellensburg, WA.

“I had nothing to do with it, basically,” says Larsen, of Larsen Farms Hay Terminal, Dubois, ID. “I benefited from their efforts.”

Otter formerly was with J.R. Simplot Company, where he sold a number of products internationally. Larsen went with him on a trade mission to China last November, a trip that culminated in the big hay sale. But the groundwork had already been laid by the National Hay Asso-ciation (NHA) and its international market development committee.

Headed by Anderson, of Anderson Hay & Grain, the committee has been actively promoting U.S. alfalfa in China and Vietnam, and those efforts are beginning to pay off. Feeding trials in both countries showed that alfalfa can increase milk production compared with traditional forages. Then workshops were held to report the results and show dairy producers how to use the hay in their rations.

Don Kieffer, NHA's executive director, says the two communist countries have the potential to become major hay customers. He expects Vietnam to eventually import 500,000 tons of U.S. hay per year, about the same amount as South Korea, which has become an important client over the last several years.

China, with many more mouths to feed, is potentially a much bigger market, says Kieffer. Dairy managers there are being encouraged to increase milk production to meet a growing de-mand. More so than in Vietnam, they seem to have a “capitalistic instinct” to improve their operations.

“So if they see a chance to put alfalfa hay in the rations and increase production, they'll be doing it in a big way,” says Kieffer.

Today's strong hay market makes export expansion more challenging, however, he adds. The costs of shipping hay to ports and processing it for export have gone up, too, putting the cost to foreign buyers higher than it's ever been.

“It's kind of an uphill battle, and I don't see the price coming down,” he says.

Anderson and Larsen both grow and buy hay. Anderson's company sold hay to a dairy in China a few years ago, and now is shipping it there again as well as to Vietnam, Kieffer reports.

Larsen, who sells about 100,000 tons of hay a year, hadn't shipped hay internationally before last year. In 2006, he went to China with a group of NHA officials, including Anderson and Kieffer, and has been back there since then promoting alfalfa hay sales.

He started shipping hay to a Chinese dairy last summer. Then, during last fall's trade mission, he and Otter met with representatives of a company that owns one dairy and sells hay to several others.

Larsen says the governor is a great promoter.

“By the time he got done with them, those people wanted to buy a lot of hay,” he says. “They wanted to buy 30,000 tons and we sold them 6,000.”

Larsen transports the hay by rail to a port in Long Beach, CA.