About four years ago, Tim Hudson sold his cotton picker and became a full-time hay producer.
“There's more money in hay,” explains Hudson, of H & H Farms, Coldwater, MS.
A decade ago, he was growing cotton rotated with soybeans. “Then a friend who ran a feed business thought we might sell some hay through his store for the growing pleasure-horse population,” recalls Hudson.
“I baled part of the next cutting into conventional square bales. People snapped it up and asked for more. So I started sprigging bermudagrass.”
This year, Hudson produced more than 2,000 tons of hay, most of it bought by horse owners.
“Horse people want dry, bright-colored hay that tests 14-15% protein. We make bales 50-60 lbs because a lot of horse owners are women.”
“We have what you might call an honor marketing system,” he adds.
He leaves loaded wagons in open sheds on his farm so clients can help themselves. They usually call to tell him how many bales they took, then settle up later.
“I've sold from three bales to 3,500 and haven't been ripped off yet,” he says. “People come out to buy my hay and tell their friends. My entire customer base has been built that way.”
Although Hudson bought into the hay market, he didn't sell all his cotton equipment. His cotton lint trailers were converted to bale wagons. In fact, he bought more trailers from his cotton-growing neighbors who had gone to modules.
“My bale kicker throws bales all the way to the rear of the trailer. With bales loosely tossed into a cotton trailer, each wagon will hold about 150 bales.”
Hudson charges $3 per bale on the trailer and delivers hay when his crew has time.
Haymaking typically begins in mid-May.
“I try to mow every 30 days from then until just before frost,” Hudson says. “I can do that when we get decent moisture. I don't like to let hay get very tall and stemmy. Bermudagrass has a tendency to lodge, and hay that lays down gets discolored.”
Hudson's yields average about 5 tons/acre. But his work doesn't stop when the haying season ends. He gets soil tests on all hay meadows each year and keeps the soil pH at 6.5 with regular liming.
“After the last cutting in the fall, I apply 100 to 150 units of potash with sulfur, then aerate the fields,” he says. “Bermudagrass can get root-bound, so I run an Aer-Way through the stand right after putting on the potash.
“In January, I burn some stands, although we're doing less burning because more people are building homes in the area,” he adds. “In March, I make a pre-emergence treatment of Diuron, plus Gramoxone where broadleaf weeds are trying to get started. About May 1, I apply about a 50-60-100 fertilizer mixture — whatever the soil test calls for — and sometimes add sulfur. And, after each cutting, I fertilize with 200 lbs of ammonium nitrate.
“Growing bermudagrass changes the way you do things,” he says. “I'm out taking care of my grass while crop farmers are relaxing or deer hunting.”