Ted Vasko went to last month's World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI, to talk to hay buyers, even though he doesn't yet have hay to sell.
“I'm hoping to establish some contacts with people who are going to be needing hay in the future,” Vasko, of Syracuse, NE, said at the expo. “And I'm here to learn more about the industry, about our product and how it's viewed, and what people are looking for.”
Mission accomplished. By talking to end users, Vasko says he learned important details about growing, stacking, storing and hauling hay, as well as about equipment being used to handle it.
“As a hay producer, I think understanding how people are using it helps you to be better in everything else leading up to that point,” he says.
Last spring, he and Rick Beaudin, his business partner, seeded alfalfa on 250 acres of recently purchased land that had been in corn and soybeans for a number of years.
“We thought alfalfa would give the soil a rest and do some nutrient building for us,” Vasko reports.
Although he worked on his uncle's hay farm as a youth, neither he nor his partner has grown alfalfa before. They seeded the crop with oats, which they mowed and baled early, hoping to follow up with one alfalfa cutting.
“It stopped raining in Otoe County on July 16 and didn't rain again until Aug. 27, and that cost us a cutting of alfalfa,” says Vasko.
Instead, they interseeded new alfalfa in thin areas and places that had eroded in heavy spring rains. “It was an opportunity to prepare the crop a little better for next year.”
In 2009, the alfalfa will be mowed by a neighbor who was looking for custom work. The baling will be done by another hay grower who needed additional acreage to justify buying a big square baler.
“We don't have the outlay of a lot of new equipment and at the same time we're helping some neighbors,” says Vasko.
The 3 × 4' bales will be sold to dairy producers, some as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Vasko and Beaudin are in the process of getting their fields certified organic, which should capture higher prices for the hay. But fuel and other shipping costs are a concern.
Vasko was at the dairy expo representing the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association (N.A.M.A.), which he joined after attending a dinner put on by the organization in September.
“Everybody I sat with at the table and everybody who got up and spoke were looking to improve the alfalfa business or their operations,” he recalls. “They were people all with a mission to grow better alfalfa; it was obvious in a very short time what they were all about.”
He hopes to remain a hay grower and N.A.M.A. member for a long time. “Alfalfa is good for our land, and it's a viable cash crop,” he says. “The hay market is good now, and we think it'll stay strong for at least a few years. So we think when it's all said and done we'll do okay with alfalfa.”