With drought and other factors severely limiting supplies, hay marketing the past few years has been rather straightforward for many U.S. growers. Basically, if they could get hay put up, someone would willingly take it off their hands.

This past growing season and into 2014, however, the marketing game has changed. Supplies are more abundant, meaning many hay sellers will have to work a little harder to move product.

Marketing innovators offer help; they continue to develop new online services aimed at connecting buyers and sellers. The following are examples of some of the latest digital-marketing methods:

Justurhay.com. Helping hay growers simplify marketing while expanding their geographic reach is the goal of this e-commerce website, launched in mid-2013 by David Justman, a beef producer-hay broker from Van, TX.

“Selling hay through a traditional classified system is time-consuming,” says Justman. “You have to place ads, research what’s going on in the market and answer tons of phone calls and emails. And when you do find a buyer, you have to wonder how and if you’re going to get paid. What we’ve set up takes all of that out of the picture.”

Seller listings on Justman’s site include photos and nutritional analysis of hay being offered. The company also advises sellers on how to set a market price. The fee for the listing and consulting is a flat $7/ton. “A big advantage of this for sellers is that buyers from all over the country can see your hay when they go to the site,” says Justman. “You’re not limited to just a local market or a three- or four-state region.”

A transportation cost calculator on the site allows buyers to estimate shipping costs by entering zip codes for buyer and seller locations.

As hay is shipped, sellers submit scale tickets and invoices signed by truck drivers to Justman Livestock. In turn, the company makes weekly payments to the buyer (with either a check or a wire transfer) until all of the hay specified in a contract has been delivered.

To reach Justman, call 903-497-2297 or email justmanlivestock@yahoo.com.

Thehayspot.com. Saleem Khatri came up with the idea for a local, online hay community when he was asked to help find hay for several farms in Florida. “I didn’t come from a farm background and didn’t really know anything about hay,” says Khatri, a U.S. Treasury Department employee from Arlington, VA.

To research the market, he first checked online local options like Craigslist and Facebook. “But listings weren’t comprehensive, and data was often incomplete or wrong,” he says.

Khatri decided to use his business background to develop a website that would offer buyers a more complete picture of hay being offered. On his site, buyers who enter their zip codes can search a radius of up to 1,000 miles, then refine search results based on hay type, price, bale shape, weight, cutting and RFV. Buyers arrange shipping on their own.

Hay is paid for by credit card and no fee will be charged to use the site. “That may change in the future,” says Khatri. “But, for right now, we think it’s more important to get people to come to the site and start making use of it.”

After beta testing in Iowa and Wisconsin, Khatri launched the nationwide version of the website late last year with more than 4,000 hay-for-sale listings. Eventually, Canadian hay for sale will also be listed.

To reach Khatri, email sk@thehayspot.com.

Twin Cities Hay Exchange. Hastings, MN, farmer John Strohfus set up this Facebook group page after he became frustrated trying to find quality hay at a reasonable price for the 60-plus horses boarded at his farm during last year’s hay shortage.

“A lot of people, myself included, were driving 150 miles or more to find hay and paying more than $300/ton for it. I kept thinking to myself, ‘There has to be a better way for people to stay in touch with more-localized suppliers.’ ”

Existing Internet hay sites, Strohfus says, try to cover too much of a geographical region. “If you’re a stable owner or horse owner in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, it doesn’t necessarily do you a lot of good to search through listings for hay in Iowa or South or North Dakota. Those supplies will cost so much more after paying trucking fees. What I wanted was something that would be more local, within 25-100 miles of the Twin Cities.”

The group page was launched last spring on Facebook.com and can easily be searched for by registered users. It was an immediate hit with horse owners in the region. By early January, membership had swelled to more than 780 people.

“The great thing about Facebook is that you can connect so quickly with a large number of people who are like-minded. You do a post or two with some friends, and before you know it, people are joining in. And, of course, the best part is that it’s free.”

While most of the page’s posts tend to be about horse hay in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, Strohfus stresses that the group is open to all hay buyers and sellers. “The whole idea is to connect people with the best-quality hay at the best price possible,” he says.

Strohfus can be reached at 612-384-5023 or john@strohfusstockfarm.com.

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