Thin hay supplies are giving many growers new opportunities to market their crops out of state. But proceed with caution, advises Rocky Lemus, forage specialist with Mississippi State University.

"It's one thing to market your hay to a neighbor or someone in the next county like you're used to doing," he says. "Selling to a buyer who is several states away, though, can require an entirely different mindset."

This year, Lemus has received abundant inquiries from Mississippi growers about selling hay across state lines. "Traditionally, we haven't exported a lot of hay out of Mississippi to other areas," he says. "But this year, with the drought situation in Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere, a lot of our growers report that they've been getting many calls from people looking for hay."

Growers should first work closely with prospective buyers to iron out details – sale price, the point of sale, responsibility for shipment and any delivery charges associated with the sale.

Combining those details into written agreements is always a good idea, Lemus says, but that's particularly important when shipping hay long distances. "People don't always remember what issues were and weren't addressed when the deal was made. A written contract helps both parties remember what was agreed to up front."

A written agreement must include what steps are to be taken if the buyer rejects delivered hay. "Where does that hay go? Who is responsible for paying to have the hay transported back to the seller? How will any refunds be handled?"

If a sale is based on hay quality, a resampling procedure must be established in case the buyer disagrees with the data a grower has provided. "Hay sample results will vary from lab to lab," says Lemus. "If your sample shows protein is 13%, but the buyer's test shows it's 12%, it's probably not going to be that big of a deal. But if there's a spread of several points, you'll need a new analysis."

Resampling protocols should state who will do the analysis and whether resampling will be done in your presence or in front of someone representing you, like the trucker or the local Extension agent, he suggests.

Ask for and check references from a buyer's banker or the county Extension agent or a livestock sale auctioneer in the buyer's territory. Even if references check out, growers shouldn't extend credit to buyers they haven't done business with before, Lemus cautions. "As you get further away from your home base, it gets more difficult to collect on overdue payments. In most cases, you're going to be better off asking for a substantial down payment or full payment before any hay is shipped."

Require that payment be made via cashier's check or money order. "I really can't think of any situations where it would be a good idea to accept a personal check."

For more hay marketing ideas from Lemus, see Marketing and Selling Hay.