This year, forage supplies are up and demand is down, a total reversal of last year. The availability or supply, in many cases, has resulted in hay prices reduced by half from the highs experienced in 2009. Given this scenario, hay buyers can afford to be selective in their purchases.
In order for hay producers to maximize their returns, quality will be a major factor.
“Sound production techniques go a long way to ensure quality,” says Ted Nibourg, farm management specialist with Alberta Agriculture. “Cutting at the proper stage, lack of weathering and baling at optimum moisture are some of the ways to get good quality forage without added expense. Segregating areas of hayfields where quality variations occur will also help. As well, putting up tight, well-wrapped bales helps ensure quality by reducing moisture infiltration in stored product and makes transportation easier with little added cost.”
Another avenue producers may wish to explore is the Alberta Certified Weed Free Hay Program. Clean hay that is free of noxious and restricted weeds can command a premium in the marketplace, and may even mean the difference between transporting hay or not. Freedom of transportation definitely increases available markets.
High NDF values
“The best method of determining forage quality is by feed testing,” says Nibourg. “Forage quality can vary a great deal. For example, tests on some alfalfa/grass are coming back with high values for neutral detergent fibre (NDF). For this quality indicator, the higher the NDF the lower the quality and digestibility of the feed.”
“A basic feed test costs approximately $70 to $75, and knowing the quality of the feed quickly justifies this expense,” says Nibourg. “Additionally, hay buyers may be more inclined to purchase forage of known quality, even if it is only average, rather than buy hay of unknown quality. This factor alone may make the difference between selling hay or sitting on it.”
For a listing of hay and pasture available, visit Alberta Agriculture’s website (www.agriculture. alberta.ca) and click on the General Store tab. The Alberta Hay and Pasture Directory is the first listing.