An Internet search engine developed by a hay producer is providing small-acreage growers in Oregon with opportunities to develop new markets.

Hayfinder.org was developed by John Lang, Powell Butte, OR, for the Central Oregon Hay Growers Association (COHGA) three years ago. Lang grows grass hay on 80 acres mostly for the horse market, has a computer-programming background and has worked for General Electric, IBM and other corporations. He designed Hay Finder specifically to serve the unique marketing needs of his region’s hay growers.

“We don’t have a lot of large commercial hay-growing operations in our part of the state,” he says. “In fact, in our area, 80 acres is considered fairly sizeable. A lot of our growers can’t afford to advertise on their own. Hayfinder consolidates a large hay supply on one site.”

Hay is listed by location, type of crop (alfalfa, alfalfa-grass mix, grass, etc.), cutting, bale size and grade (horse, dairy, export). Growers can also list test information and price. “Altogether, there are somewhere around 33,000 different combinations that could show up on the search engine. A grower can get an awful lot of information out about the hay they have for sale without putting up a mile-long billboard.”

Currently, Lang says, only a few hayfinder.org growers choose to list an asking price. “Most want to negotiate after talking to the potential buyers. On the other hand, a lot of buyers say they’d rather that the seller just tell them the price up front.”

COHGA members can list on the search engine for free as part of their annual membership dues. COHGA is an affiliate of the Oregon Hay and Forage Association (OHFA); members of other OHFA chapters pay a $25 fee on top of their membership dues to make use of the site. When new users sign on, Lang does the initial listing for them. “We want to make sure spelling and terminology are consistent throughout,” he says. “For example, I might call something feeder hay while someone else might refer to the same product as beef-cow hay. It leads to less confusion if one person is entering all of the information.”

After that, listers have the option of having Lang continue to enter the information or doing it themselves. Listings are password-protected.

As of late last month, 180 listings were on the site. “It’s really popular with the younger farmers,” says Lang. “They can’t wait to get their hay in the barn so they can add it.”

To get word out about the search engine, Lang runs a weekly ad in a regional farm newspaper serving Oregon and neighboring states. The cost is $10/week. “It’s the only advertising we do.”

The return on that investment is “phenomenal. We’ve been averaging about 10,000 solid hits per month. These are buyers actively looking for hay for sale. It’s extremely powerful.”

Although most of the site’s potential-buyer traffic has originated in Oregon, this past spring Lang saw a spike in inquiries coming out of northern California. “Hay was in pretty short supply there,” he says.

Lang has copyrighted the software powering the search engine and believes it could be a viable, independent business enterprise. “Someone with the right blend of energy and enthusiasm could make a living off of it.”

For now, though, he’s content to manage the search engine as a non-paid volunteer for COHGA. “I find it so satisfying to help people in agriculture make use of some of these incredible new developments in technology as they step into the 21st Century.”

To contact Lang, call 541-923-2849 or email hayfinder@yahoo.com.