Is hay marketing on par with your haymaking?

By Mike Rankin

There are plenty of exceptional haymakers across the U.S.; however, for commercial hay growers or those who simply have extra inventory to sell, haymaking is only half of the equation. There’s also hay marketing to deal with.

Most companies have a marketing department or hire a marketing firm. Farmers generally don’t have that luxury. Marketing is just one more hat that needs to be worn and, for many, it’s not a hat that often fits very well.

Depending on the year or location, marketing strategies need to be nimble to ensure a reasonable return. When the hay market is high, achieving a profitable return is relatively easy. It’s when hay prices sag that marketing skills can pay big dividends and often dictate profit or loss.

Duane Miller, an agronomy extension educator with Penn State University, suggests that marketing hay should entail more than simply selling hay at a local auction. He offers these hay marketing tips:

  1. Differentiate yourself from the competition. This may be in the product you produce or simply by offering services that others do not.

  2. Develop a relationship with potential buyers. Offer a free bale(s) to see if it meets the customer’s needs and wants. This avoids surprises at the time of delivery.

  3. Don’t be afraid to offer advice and educate your customers. You may know what better fits their needs than they do, but be honest.

  4. Have the hay tested for quality. Though many hay buyers may purchase purely on color, smell, or absence of weeds, hard numbers provide a basis for discussion and education.

  5. Offer delivery as an option. At the same time, consider discounts for hay that is picked up from the farm, right out of the field, prepaid sales, and for large quantity purchases.

  6. Follow up with the customer to gauge their satisfaction. Consider replacing any bales that they deem unacceptable.

Developing a consistent and loyal customer base takes much of the risk out of selling hay. The first step to that end is to differentiate yourself from others who are selling hay in your area.