Thomas Ridgeway is already thinking about how to price his high-quality horse-hay crop next year.

"We won't get around to actually setting our prices until late winter-early spring," notes Ridgeway, of Circle R Farms near Fyffe, AL. He puts up Bermudagrass hay in small square bales on 84 acres.

"Right now, we're trying to get a handle on what input prices might do. We've been hearing some things about potash prices that are making us a little nervous. Along with nitrogen, it's our biggest single production cost."

Ridgeway's main market: recreational horse owners and boarding stables located within 100 miles of his farm. He also works with a hay broker in northern Georgia to market his hay around Atlanta.

For local customers, Ridgeway bases price on in-the-field pickup. This year, he charged $4.50/bale. "That's if they loaded the hay themselves," he says. "If we did the loading, we'd tack on another 25 cents a bale."

In a typical year, Ridgeway makes 10,000 bales, each weighing between 50 and 55 lbs, in three cuttings. This year, he figures he put up 9,000 bales. "A tornado went through here in April and that put us little behind. Then, once we got into the growing season, we had to deal with some wet weather. It made it difficult to stay on our cutting schedule."

Ridgeway still has about one-third of his small square production in inventory. "Sales usually slack off a little bit around this time of year. It starts picking up again when the cold weather hits. Most years, we're sold out by late March or early April. That's likely to be the case this year."

The grower also puts about 600 acres of mixed grass hay into 4 x 5', net-wrapped round bales, mostly marketed to local beef producers. His selling price was $28-30/roll in the field. He received $45/roll for net-wrapped Bermudagrass hay packaged in round bales.

"With the round bales, it seems like there's a little more competition each year from people who put up hay without worrying about their net return. They just want to get rid of it. That holds prices down a little bit. At the same time, though, we have returning customers who know our product, so they're willing to pay a little more."

To contact Ridgeway, call 256-601-6120 or email satch_a_mo@yahoo.com.