With mostly favorable weather and improving demand, 2012 is shaping up as a pretty good year for hay grower Ryan Carpenter of Isanti, MN. “It’s definitely been an improvement in quality over last year,” he says. “Overall, we’ve been a lot more fortunate than people in other parts of the country.”

Carpenter grows alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay on 100 acres, packaging most of it in 50-lb small square bales. His primary market is made up of horse owners within 50 miles of the farm.

A series of frosts set back alfalfa growth in April, so Carpenter held off first cutting until late June. “Around here, we usually get going on first crop in early June. But for people who did that this year, the yields weren’t what they normally are. In our case, by the time we cut, the alfalfa had recovered and it produced nicely.”

His second crop, taken in late July, also yielded well. “It started to turn a little dry here in the middle of July, but we have the ability to irrigate some of our hay acres and that made the difference.”

For third crop, the grower anticipates good quality. He was planning to start baling last week. “It’s right at the early bud stage, and it looks good overall. It should test pretty well.”

Demand seems to be picking up, Carpenter says. “We’ve been getting more calls in the last couple of weeks than we have in the past. There are fewer acres of hay around, and the drought has taken its toll on production. Some other growers who are running short on supply have referred buyers to us, and we’ve been hearing from customers we haven’t heard from in several years.”

He has also taken calls from potential buyers in Iowa and Colorado. “We haven’t moved anything in that direction so far. Once people start looking at the freight side of things, they get sticker shock. Hay ends up being about half the price of the total bill.”

For his first two cuttings, Carpenter has been charging $4/bale or around $160/ton. “That’s about what we charged last year. We could probably do a little better than that, but we’ve trying to work with our longtime customers to hold the line on prices.”

On third cutting, he’s considering boosting his price to $5/bale. “Because the quality is so high, we think there may be more of a dairy market for it.”

The grower probably won’t boost hay acres next year. “Demand has picked up a little bit this year, but over the long run it’s a little tough to consistently get $200/ton out of the horse market in our area. We’ve thought about trying to go a little farther afield to sell our hay. But then you start dealing with trucking costs, bad checks and so on. Right now, there’s just not a lot of incentive to add acres back to hay with corn and soybean prices as good as they are.”

To contact Carpenter, call 763-444-6142 or email ryan-carpenter@hotmail.com.