Gary Knutson wanted to increase the quality and value of his hay, so last year he embraced what’s becoming a popular option and built permanent hay storage.

Knutson, Volga, SD, considered adding to his 300 acres of alfalfa-fescue mix. But because land prices are high in his area, the economics didn’t make sense. He decided to get more out of the hay he already makes, much of which is fed to his registered Angus herd.

“Hay is probably going to be worth about $50/ton more than hay that sits outside,” says Knutson. “Green hay sells better than bleached hay or stuff that has snow and rain on it.

“When you go to the work of putting up the best forage you can, you might as well put it in storage.”

As U.S. all-hay prices have hovered above $200/ton during the past year, more growers are looking to protect crop from the elements and maximize their returns, manufacturers report.

Large storage facilities such as Knutson’s – he has 65 x 140’ and 65 x 100’ fabric buildings – are especially popular. They allow producers to easily maneuver and store large round and square bales.

Knutson typically makes 5 x 6’ round bales. By pyramid-stacking them, he figures he could store more than 1,200 tons if his buildings were filled.

ClearSpan Fabric Structures, the company that built Knutson’s buildings, sells a variety of polyethylene fabric hay storage facilities that can be built to any length and up to 300’ wide.

"The nice thing about our Hercules Truss Arch Buildings is there are no internal support posts, which really maximizes storage,” says Marc Zirolli, ClearSpan brand specialist. “If you’re looking for added height for stacking hay bales, (the structures) can be mounted on posts.”

Steel Arch Factory office manager Michael Heinfling has noticed the same demand for large facilities by hay-growing customers. Most are looking for the company’s 100%-steel structures in widths of at least 50’. Farmers like the arches because they are sturdy, he says.

Knutson is already seeing the benefits of selling higher-quality hay, he believes. Each year, he sells about 1,000 tons directly to local dairies; the producer feeds another 500 tons. In mid-April, a load sold for about $200/ton, about $30/ton more than it would have in the past, he estimates. “Dairies really realize the value of good storage.”

The grower knows it will take time to see returns on the $80,000 he spent on the two structures as well as what he paid for the foundation’s concrete piers. But to maintain his reputation as a grain-free registered Angus herd owner, he believes the investment was worth it.

There are also non-monetary benefits, he says. He doesn’t have to deal with tarps, and also has extra storage space for equipment. “It’s just more convenient.”