New York hay growers are putting up significant amounts of high-quality hay this summer. But East Coast hay brokers predict that prices for timothy – destined for the high-end horse market – will drop, reports Phil Saunders, a Dansville, NY, grower.

He’s more optimistic than the brokers: “I’ve heard it’s not commanding the price that it was last year,” he admits, “but with a little bit of salesmanship and promotion, you’d be surprised what you can do with your product.”

Last year, his high-quality timothy went for $350/ton, and he expects a similar price this year.

“Everything I’ve got this year is like racetrack hay,” he says. “Absolutely gorgeous.”

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Saunders, who farms 400 acres of timothy on his Sugar Creek Farm, was a little worried about hay quality early on. He put up about six tractor trailers of hay in early June, and then the weather turned sour.

“Luckily, we had a cool spring and all my hay was late. If you wait until July, usually the hay starts getting old. But my hay just wasn’t ready.”

He now has more than 25 semi loads of high-quality, first-cut hay in the barn.

“The last two weeks, I’ve put up 6,000 bales,” Saunders says. “I now have almost three times as much really nice hay up than I did last year. I’ve made out pretty good.”

The secret to his business’s success is more than just harvesting great hay, however. He notes that a little promotional effort goes a long way toward ensuring a top price from buyers.

Just before cutting, Saunders takes pictures of his hay and texts them to his customers.

“Then I’ll take pictures when it’s in a windrow, so they get an idea of the color and how nice it looks,” he explains. “After I bale it, I’ll take pictures of the bales in the field.”

The photo updates give customers a true sense of the quality of hay they are buying, Saunders says.

“It’s a little extra work, but then my customers pretty much know what’s in my barn.”

According to last week’s USDA Crop Progress report, the first cutting of alfalfa was 90% complete across New York. Only about 10% of second cutting had been completed.

Average alfalfa prices in the state in June stood at $217/ton, down $6/ton from the previous month’s, but $12 higher than the June 2013 total, according to USDA’s recent Agricultural Prices report. All-hay average prices were $190/ton in New York. That’s up $10/ton from the May price and $40/ton higher than last year’s June average.

To contact Saunders, call 585-370-7301 or email