Washington State hay growers may have fewer non-payments and bad checks to contend with thanks to a program requiring hay dealers doing business in the state to be licensed and bonded.

“You might expect problems to increase when hay prices are high like they’ve been in the past couple of years,” says Jerry Buendel, program manager for the Washington Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Investigations Program (AIP). “But, overall, we’re not seeing as many complaints as we did five to 10 years ago.”

In 2011 and 2012, AIP handled just 11 formal complaints from hay growers involving non-payment and bad checks. Claims totaled more than $170,000. In the largest single incident, the disputed amount was just under $85,000. AIP was able to recover $71,000 of that.

The formal complaints, which eventually led to legal action, represented a fraction of the calls received by AIP investigators during the two-year period, Buendel is quick to point out. Most of the other complaints were resolved with a few phone calls between the investigators and the parties involved.

Having AIP investigators at weigh stations and patrolling roadways has also cut down on the number of problems involving unlicensed dealers. AIP producer education efforts have also helped.

“We’ve been working closely with the hay associations and taking part in their meetings and programs,” notes Buendel. “Growers overall are becoming more sophisticated about how they do business. We’re seeing more of them using contracts and doing reference checks. The days when people were willing to do business based on a handshake and a business card are gone.”

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Researching the background of dealers they’re doing business with for the first time is the most important step growers can take to head off potential problems, he adds. “Here in Washington, they can check with our office or visit our (AIP) website to see if the dealer is licensed and bonded to do business in the state. They can also ask the dealer for references of people they’ve done business with in the past, then follow-up and check on those references.”

To contact Buendel, call 360-902-1857 or email jbuendel@agr.wa.gov.