Iowa State University Farm Management Specialist Charles Brown investigated this question and said the answer might be yes.
« It’s about determining whether you have a local market for hay or whether the hay can be transferred to buyers, » Brown said.. “You need to decide what kind of hay you will plant and whether or not you should invest in equipment. These are some of the many questions that need consideration.
The markets for high-quality alfalfa are generally profitable, although declining dairy prices in the past several years have squeezed dairy farmers’ profit margins.. When dairy farmers are doing well, hay prices generally tend to rise.
In 2019, the heavy rain caused the pastures to produce more fodder, so the producers bought less hay.. This meant that the supply of hay was abundant, but harvesting good hay was a challenge in some areas.
In addition to changing weather conditions from year to year, hay producers are also dealing with hay prices, which typically decline as the winter months approach. Meanwhile, dairy farmers are waiting for new crops and beef producers are returning the cows to pasture.
The cost to create alfalfa is much higher than the cost of growing a lawn. However, sowing is only necessary every four or five years for a well-managed clover. If irrigated fields are an option, harvesting high-quality hay may be more manageable.
Alfalfa production with a rotating system that includes corn may reduce corn nitrogen requirements for up to two years. A healthy alfalfa crop can reduce the nitrogen needs of the next corn crop by up to 100% in the first year and 50% in the second year..
There is demand for high-quality lawn straw or a lawn / alfalfa blend in the equine industry. When selling hay to horses, customers often buy small squares.
« One of the disadvantages to producing hay is that there is no futures trading board, » Brown said.. « Although you may be able to negotiate a contract with a client, there is usually no way to secure prices the way futures contracts are used to hedge commodity prices..
Brown refers to the use of the maize suitability classification (CSR) as a way to help determine whether or not marginal lands are better suited for hay production.. CSR is an indicator that classifies soil types for potential grade crop yields. Early concepts of productivity classification were developed by Iowa State University (ISU) scholars in the 1940s.
A major breakthrough in science occurred in 1971 with Thomas Fenton’s ISU publication describing corporate social responsibility. Fenton, professor of agronomy at the ISU, used inherent soil properties (60 to 80 inches deep), average weather, and the potential of different soil types to produce row crops to develop the most advanced and complete quantitative soil productivity rates available in the world..
Since 1971, the knowledge base of soil properties has been greatly improved and expanded, making the classifications of Corporate Social Responsibility, currently known as CSR2, even more robust.. The average Iowa CSR rating is 75. 2.
« If you have a CSR rating in the 1960s or below, using it to produce corn or soybeans might not be the best alternative, » Brown says. “This is especially true in areas with steep hills, where you usually have erosion issues. Hay provides much better protection for these types of soils in a rotation where row crops are grown.
Converting farmland to hay production may require a planning period of two or three years. Before moving to hay production, Brown recommends reviewing past applications of herbicides to ensure that carryover does not hinder the creation of a new hay field..
Currently, the cost to establish a hay crop is around $ 380 per acre, and seeding requires about $ 150 per acre.. Part of the planning equation involves estimating the hay equipment cost.
Brown recommended the use of decision-making spreadsheets found on the ISU’s Ag Decision Maker website (www. Extension. Enthusiastic. edu / agdm /) for an economic overview of individual operations. File A1-15 on the website, Estimated Costs of Pasture and Hay Production, provides significant cost details related to establishing, regenerating and maintaining hay production..
Brown said: « It is possible to appoint a dedicated forage crew for harvesting. ». “Before making these types of changes it is advisable to look at the operation of the farm as a whole and compare the alternative uses of each field before finalizing the plan..
This article appeared in the November 2020 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 21.
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