The on-line auction craze has reached the hay business. A new Nebraska company posts sellers' hay on its Web site and encourages buyers to bid on it.

“We wanted to give producers another way to market their hay,” says alfalfa grower Mike Goeman, Broadwater, NE. He teamed with Jerry Weekes, who owns a cattle auction business, to establish Platte Valley Alfalfa On-line Auction.

Since it was activated about a year ago, the company's Web site has gotten nearly 30,000 hits. Roughly 3,600 tons were sold via the site in 2000.

“We're hoping to double that amount this year,” says Goeman. “Activity is slow right now, but we anticipate that it will pick up in early October.”

Most consigned hay comes from about a 300-mile radius of the company's Gering, NE, headquarters and is sold to buyers in five or six states. All hay is inspected and sampled by Weekes or Goeman before it's listed. The samples are tested at Fas-Test Forage Lab, Eaton, CO, at the sellers' expense.

Relative feed value and crude protein scores are listed for each lot on the auction site, along with the location, tons available, cutting and bale type. Hay is listed according to type — alfalfa, wild hay, straw, sorghum, millet, oat hay or tame grass. Rectangular and round bales of all sizes are eligible.

No hay photos are posted, but descriptive information, such as “weed-free” or “nice, green color” is provided to help bidders.

“Because we've seen the hay, we're able to provide a very accurate description of it,” says Goeman.

Auctions run for a week, from 7 a.m. Saturday to 3 p.m. the following Friday. Each consignor then is obligated to sell his hay for the highest bid at or above his asking price. If the asking price isn't met during the week, the hay may be consigned again.

Potential buyers can register to bid via telephone, fax or e-mail. After a registration application is filled out, company reps review it and a password is sent to the applicant. Bank references are requested, says employee Pam Reichert.

The company collects a $2/ton fee at consignment, and another $3/ton when a buyer pays for it. In each case, the buyer pays the company, which forwards the money to the seller after subtracting its fee. Buyers pay hauling costs and must take delivery within 30 days.

In time, the company hopes to expand by hiring reps in other areas to inspect and sample hay for listing on the site.

For more information, visit the site (www.plattevalleyalfalfa.com) or call 800-873-7452.