The New York company that hauls freshly cut forage to a plant and oven-dries it in less than four hours is lengthening its drying line to triple its production capacity in an expansion prompted by a selling arrangement with a major retailer.

The $850,000 expansion, funded by a USDA-guaranteed loan, brightens the company’s prospects, says Jeff Warren, a partner in Top Quality Hay Processors, LLC (TQHP), Geneva, NY. But more capacity is needed, he adds.

“We cannot produce enough hay, that’s our biggest problem. Our demand exceeds what we can possibly process.”

TQHP started operating its Romulus, NY, processing plant in September 2008, turning out a product so high in quality it’s been called “Godiva Hay.” But the soft economy and resulting tight money supply prevented the company from adding capacity as demand grew, according to Warren.

“It was hard to borrow money,” he says. “But now the economy is turning around and money’s starting to loosen up so we were able to do this expansion.”

The company buys standing hay from nearby growers and mows it with a modified windrower that conveys it directly into dump wagons or trucks that deliver it to the plant. There it goes through a series of conveyors that lay it in a uniform mat ahead of the natural gas-powered oven.

Warren says the computer-controlled oven dries the hay way down, then moisture is added to bring the level back up to 10-11%. Then it’s baled for the horse market or processed into feed supplements and other products for horses and smaller animals.

TQHP was covered in Hay & Forage Grower in August 2008 and January 2009. In the second article, Warren said the company expected to harvest at least 2,500 acres of alfalfa and about 2,000 acres of timothy that year. A second drying line was going to be added that winter, and concrete had been poured for a second processing plant in an adjacent county.

Only 1,200 acres were harvested in 2010 and none of the other plans have materialized yet. But Warren remains optimistic.

“If it was up to me it would be done, but unfortunately banks haven’t wanted to loan money,” he says.

The current expansion will enable the company to meet the needs of the newest client, Tractor Supply Co. After test-marketing the hay in 25 stores last spring, Tractor Supply wanted to offer it in its 230 East Coast stores, but TQHP could only supply 50 of them. The expansion, which is adding 110’ to the existing drying line, will enable TQHP to keep the retailer fully supplied through the winter, says Warren.

TQHP products also are marketed online and through two companies that distribute to feed, garden and pet stores in the Northeast.

Most of the hay is sold in 21”-long, 20- to 23-lb bagged bales of alfalfa, timothy and mixtures of the two hays. Several nutritional supplements are marketed in 20-lb boxes or smaller bags.

Two new equine products are also bagged. Made from alfalfa leaves, Alfalfa Accents is sprinkled on lower-quality hay to make it more palatable, and Nuzzle Sprouts is an herbal supplement consisting of a flake of hay with herbs.

So far, nearly $5 million has been invested in TQHP by its partners, with some coming from state economic development grants.

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