All kinds of businesses allow customers to pay with credit and debit cards. Hay growers should think about joining the crowd, says Andrew Clarkson of Clarkson Farms in Oakley, IL.

Clarkson and his wife, Jessica, put up high-quality alfalfa and grass hay in small square bales on 80 acres. Horse owners within a 60-mile radius of the farm are their primary market. They also bale 2,000-3,000 small-square straw bales each year.

They started giving customers the option of paying with cards earlier this year. “We began thinking about it last fall,” Clarkson relates. “On a couple of occasions, we had customers out at the farm tell us that they’d like to buy a few more bales, but they didn’t have enough cash with them. We figured that kind of thing would be less likely to happen if we were set up to accept credit cards. It’s basically a convenience for our customers.”

While there are a variety of ways for businesses to take credit-card payments, Clarkson opted to use a service offered by an online company called Square. The company furnishes a card reader that attaches into the headphone jack on a smartphone. The reader connects to an application on the phone that carries out the transaction. The application is compatible with Apple devices running iOS 4.1 or higher and with Android phones running 2.1 and up.

“We had zero start-up costs. The application is free. And my brother in the electronics business gave one of the readers to Jessica and one to me as Christmas presents. That way, we can each have a reader with us at all times. I put mine in the glove compartment of the pickup so it goes with me everywhere. I can swipe a card and get paid just about anywhere I happen to be.”

The card reader works with Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express cards. At the time of transaction, a customer signs on the smartphone screen using a finger or stylus.  He or she can receive an electronic receipt via email or text.

The Clarksons pay a 2.75% transaction fee on the total value of each sale. For a bale of straw sold for $3, the fee works out to 8.25¢. Funds from each sale are deposited directly into their bank account, usually the day after the transaction takes place.

Not having to deal with bad checks is another advantage. “We only had one check bounce last year,” Clarkson notes. “It was for a small amount, not really worth going to court over. We finally got paid, but it took over a month. With credit cards, you know immediately whether the money for payment is going to be there or not.”

Allowing customers to pay with a credit or debit card also projects an image of professionalism, he believes. “It shows people that you’re not just the ma-and-pa farm operation down the road. You’ve stepped into the 21st Century.

“Our goal is to eventually grow the size of our farm. But we’re not necessarily aiming to be the biggest hay growers around. We’d rather be known as the most professional business people anywhere.”

To contact Clarkson, call 217-972-9640 or email