Wet, cool weather made it a tough year for hay growers trying to put up quality hay in the northeastern U.S. But the weird and whacky weather also made it an almost ideal year for one company to use a new processing system that turns standing forages into dry hay in about four hours.
“We’ve had rain just about every week during the growing season so far,” says Jeff Warren, a partner in Top Quality Hay Processors (TQHP) in Geneva, NY. “Some farmers in this area had to stack their hay in the field as mulch hay. But, with the exception of one day where weather shut us down for 12 hours, we had our trucks in the field 24 hours a day, six days a week.”
Warren and his partners started working on the new process in early 2006. This first full year of production, the hay crop – alfalfa, alfalfa-orchardgrass mix and timothy – is mowed with a modified windrower that loads the material directly into dump wagons or trucks. The hay is then delivered to a 160,000-sq-ft processing facility in Romulus, NY, where it’s dried in a 184.5’-long radiant-heat oven.
After drying, the hay is packaged in bales or bags. The whole process, from the time the hay is cut to when it’s ready to go on the truck for shipping, takes just about four hours.
While the company custom-makes bales in a variety of sizes, Warren notes that most of the hay produced at TQHP this year was packaged in small bales measuring 14 x 18 x 21” and weighing 20-23 lbs. The target market: Feed stores serving horse owners. “We call it our boutique bale,” he says. “Many horse owners are women, and they like the light bales. They can pick them up easily and carry one in each hand. Feed stores like them because we can deliver a consistent product every time.”
This year, TQHP contracted with a half-dozen local hay growers to furnish the raw product for drying. Enough hay was produced to completely fill 50,000 sq ft of warehouse space at the Romulus facility. Plans are already in the works to add a second drying line next year. Eventually, the facility could accommodate as many as six drying lines capable of producing 50,000 tons of dried hay annually.
Looking ahead, Warren says TQHP will move from refining the drying process to developing new markets and relationships with dealers and distributors. Along with horse owners, the company is looking to serve the dairy and small-animal (rabbit, gerbil, guinea pig) markets. Educating potential end users about the makeup and nature of TQHP hay is a priority.
“People have a hard time believing we can produce such high-quality hay consistently,” says Warren. “The color of the hay is so rich it looks like it’s still wet. Some people wonder if we’ve added something to it during the drying process. We haven’t. It’s 100% natural.”
Warren has received dozens of calls from people inquiring about possibilities for franchising the drying process. “Up to this point, we’ve concentrated on building our business,” he says. “(Franchising) would be the logical next step.”
For Hay & Forage Grower articles on TQHP, go to “Working Beautifully” and “Godiva Hay.”