Growers in some regions of the country have scarcely heard of, much less participated in, a hay auction. In other areas, hay auctions are practically a tradition, and you could attend one almost every day with just a little travel.
Some growers and dealers believe auctions are a valuable hay marketing option. Others believe the hay quality is suspect, and that auction prices don't reflect hay's real value. Here's a glance at both sides of the issue:
There are both non-tested and tested hay auctions in Wisconsin, according to Rick Tanger, market news reporter for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He's convinced that tested-hay auctions are a good deal for both buyer and seller.
"This lets the buyer go out and compare hay from numerous producers, and then buy the quality that most nearly matches his herd's production," says Tanger. "There isn't a lot of second-guessing involved as when hay is bought by sight and smell."
"Hay auctions are doing a thrifty job of covering this area, and have for 15 years," notes Bob Humpal, Fort Atkinson (IA) Hay Co. He's also second vice president of the National Hay Association.
On average, 80-100 lots, ranging from 2 tons to semi loads, move at his auction every week, he says. Bale formats include small squares, large rounds, and mid-size squares. Buyers generally come from within a 100-mile radius. Sellers haul hay in from as far away as Manitoba, northern Missouri, western Minnesota and the Dakotas, with occasional loads coming from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
"Buyers know that we conduct hay auctions at 1 pm every Wednesday year-round - rain, snow or sunshine," Humpal adds.
While it's not mandatory that the hay be tested, sellers who bring test information with them usually get better prices for their hay, Humpal notes.
"My concern is that, if someone pays $200 for a pickup load of hay at an auction in Pennsylvania, is that indicative of what the price of hay should be in Nebraska?" asks Tom Keene of Creech, Inc., Lexington, KY. "Also, was the hay grown by a local producer, did it travel 100 miles, or are there 1,000 miles of freight involved?"
Larry Brogan, LJ Hay Co., Hanoverton, OH, shares the same concern. He's convinced that too many hay-price reports are based on auction prices.
"A hay auction certainly isn't the market, which may be why some reports are so inaccurate they're almost a joke to read," he comments.
Brogan says that he sometimes can sell high-quality hay delivered a reasonable distance for as much as $100 a ton cheaper than the going rate for the same hay sold by the bale at an auction.
"Some people take their junk hay to auctions to dump it," he adds. "Generally, there's something wrong with every load at an auction or it wouldn't be there.
"Personally, I'd find it demoralizing if I had to take good hay to a hay auction to get rid of it. Also, real hay buyers don't have time to stand around at hay auctions."