When Vaughn Clark finishes a custom haying job, he sometimes hands the client a check.
Besides cutting, raking, baling and stacking, Clark, of Cortez, CO, often markets the hay and delivers it to buyers as far away as Texas.
“My primary focus is on the actual harvesting of my customers' hay, but I'm happy to get it sold for them, too,” he says.
Clark, who owns Peaks to Plains Hay Company with his wife, Kathy, has a diverse client base.
“I work with small-acreage hay growers who have one field of hay and no idea how to sell it, to large-acreage potato farmers who use hay in their rotations,” he says. “They don't want to know anything more about hay than just growing it.”
Harvesting a customer's crop puts Clark in a good position to market it.
“I know when the hay was cut, the date it was baled and, most importantly, under what conditions. Having that information makes it easier for me to sell the hay via my personal network.”
Vaughn's largest harvesting client is the nearby Ute Tribe Farm. The tribe markets its own hay, but Clark sells most of the hay for his other customers.
“My focus has always been on harvesting 4 × 4 × 8' bales for the dairy industry, so that's the type of hay that is easiest for me to move,” he reports.
When asked to market clients' hay, Clark contacts brokers who work with large dairy producers, predominantly in northern Texas, to see who can offer the best price.
“I tell each broker the quantity and quality of each lot and the time frame in which I can deliver it. Then I get the prices from the brokers and take the information back to my customers.”
Moving beef-quality hay takes more legwork. “I have to do things the hard way, just like everybody else.” He calls cow-calf operators, advertises in magazines and talks to more hay brokers.
“My hay marketing system isn't very sophisticated, but I want to make sure that, if it's a service my customers need, I can sell their hay for them,” he says.
Fees for his marketing service vary, but they're generally $2-3/ton. He also markets hay that he didn't harvest, but that service costs a little more.
Some of his custom harvesting work is done on shares.
“Wherever I'm marketing my portion, the grower wants me to sell his, too.”
Clark has enough employees and equipment to harvest over 750 acres per day. He has five balers, four swathers, four rakes amd two bale wagons. Last year he and his crew worked in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska.