You'll get a busy signal if you try to call Dennis Widga early in the morning. That's the only time this federal reporter for USDA's Hay Market News can reach some of his sources.
“I start making my calls to producers at 6 a.m. every Monday,” says Widga, a 31-year USDA veteran. “If I don't get ahold of them before 6:30, it's very difficult to reach them.”
From his office in Torrington, WY, Widga prepares the Weekly Hay Summary and Weekly Direct Feeder Cattle Summary for Wyoming, western Nebraska and western South Dakota. The hay report is released every Thursday.
Widga's weekly hay report is one of 23 compiled by USDA. In addition to prices for a variety of hay types, he provides a short commentary on current market conditions. For example, a recent summary stated, “Hay trading slow. Demand fair to moderate. Supplies becoming limited in some areas.”
Widga's mission is to provide unbiased, accurate hay market information for anybody who wants or needs it. “The information provided by the Weekly Hay Summaries definitely helps sellers set their prices.”
The reports are posted on USDA's Web site, and also are picked up by newspapers and magazines.
“The Internet has really helped in the dissemination of price information,” says Widga, who also reports hay and livestock prices via a weekly radio broadcast.
To gather price information, he relies on the 65-plus hay growers, buyers, dealers, brokers, truckers, grinders and feedlot owners on his call list.
“I have specific individuals I call every week and others I might call every other week or once a month,” he says. “I can look at my list and generally know who moves hay every week.”
Those who share their price information do so on a voluntary basis.
“People are extremely helpful in providing prices to me because they know I'll keep my sources strictly confidential. I'll report that I found hay for a certain price in a certain area, but I won't divulge who sold it. People want that information kept private.”
He builds his list of sources by talking to people in the industry. “I just keep my ears open. If I hear of a producer who's moving large quantities of hay, I'll call him and ask if he'll talk to me.”
Widga is confident that reported prices are accurate.
“That knowledge develops over time, too. I get to know these people and develop a feel for the market and the information they're providing. I can tell if something doesn't quite fit with everything else.”