Selling hay door to door may sound like an unusual marketing move, but it's just one of the innovative ways Kenny and Cindy Gross have promoted their hay business.

Five years ago, market and agronomic factors prompted the Edinburg, ND, couple to add a cash alfalfa enterprise to their wheat, barley and canola operation. Since then, they've taken an aggressive approach to marketing their high-quality bales.

Yes, they've tried taking bales on the road.

“One year we loaded some bales on a trailer behind the pickup and took off for Minnesota and Wisconsin,” recalls Kenny. “We drove into dairy farms, introduced ourselves and showed them the hay.”

The couple has also joined forces with other northeastern North Dakota farmers by founding the Northland Alfalfa Producers Association. That group's goals are to promote members' alfalfa, look for ways to add value to it, and educate producers.

The association's top priority these days: enticing someone to start or relocate a dairy in that part of the state.

“Land is still affordable here and feed costs are lower,” says Cindy. “We've run the numbers and we think it's feasible.

“We've also been lobbying hard with the state department of agriculture to help us promote dairy — and agriculture in general — in this part of the state,” she says. “We even have met with the governor. But nothing like that moves quickly, and we have to be content with moving in baby steps right now.”

She says Northland Alfalfa members realize that they also need to look at markets beyond dairy. They have explored building an alfalfa pelletizing plant and looked at machines to double-compress bales, hoping to export hay through the Gulf of Mexico.

“But all of those things require a lot of time, as well as money.”

Until they find the right value-added opportunity, the Grosses continue to peddle their bales any way they can. They attend lots of meetings and conferences, talking to as many people as they can. And they make use of more traditional marketing means — advertising in dairy-country farm papers, developing a Web site and sending out seasonal mailings. They always list their toll-free phone number, which Cindy says is definitely worth the cost.

“The first two years of marketing were extremely difficult,” she recalls. “But as you establish a reputation with customers it gets easier and you start to get referrals. We even get referrals from some of our customers' nutritionists.”

Despite the fact that they now ship their bales all over the Midwest, the Grosses try to personally deliver the first load to each new customer.

“We're not just selling hay; we're building relationships,” says Cindy.

For more information, visit their Web site at www.grossfarmsalfalfa.com or contact Gross Farms Alfalfa, 7903 119th Ave. NE, Edinburg, ND 58227-9550, 877-429-5623 or 701-496-3371 or e-mail: hay@grossfarmsalfalfa.com.