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Tips for profitable hay operations, cash for Trimble County farmers

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Okay, I am over the snow and ready for spring!  On the other hand, winter is a good time to think ahead to the growing season that’s not really all that far away. Cash hay sales can be an income source for many farmers. These 10 management tips provided by Darry Lacefield, University of Kentucky Extension Forage Specialist, can help you generate the most profit from your hay enterprise.
Do extensive research on the market and your potential customers. Save some bales to show prospective customers or brokers the kind of product you can offer.
Realistically assess your ability to procure labor on a timely basis. Be sure you have labor lined up before committing to supply large quantities of hay.
Base your estimated income on average, not high, market prices for hay. If you can succeed on average prices, you will be in great shape in years when prices are even better. Make a short list of equipment necessary to expand your production capacity and quickly get hay up. Be tight-fisted, but realistic, about the budget.
Target the cleanest, densest and most weed-free fields as those most likely to be good enough for cash hay.
Develop a plan to harvest the heaviest production first and in a timely fashion. This first harvest can be nearly 50 percent of your annual yield on good stands in good years.
Work on storage to provide the capacity and access to the hay that you need.
Consider establishing any new alfalfa fields as pure alfalfa and put grass in later. This will help you manage weeds that are hard or impossible to control in grass.
Develop a plan to market hay that is off quality. Opportunities include your own cattle, other beef herds or even as landscape mulch.
Learn all you can about cash hay enterprises from the experts by talking to experienced growers and attending meetings of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and other educational organizations and groups.
Remember the hay business is a service operation. Your success may depend as much on what you are willing to do for the customer as what you can supply.
I would like to add a couple more suggestions to Garry’s list: Maintain optimum fertility levels in hay fields by soil testing at least every other year. There is no charge for this service through the Trimble County Extension Office. You can also check out a soil probe from us to make the sampling easier. We will make fertilizer recommendations for optimum production. Maintaining adequate fertility levels and growth will also help reduce weed problems.  Lastly, consider having the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Forage Lab doing a complete forage analysis of each lot of hay cut.  This can be an invaluable tool in selling your hay as the potential buyer will know the quality of hay he or she is buying.  The Department charges a $10 fee per lot (same field same cutting) for the service. A trained field inspector will take several probes that are analyzed for Protein, Total Digestible Nutrients, and Relative Feed Value. Hay may also be listed for sale on our web site. The producer receives an analysis of the forage’s nutritional value and an “Interpreting Forage Quality Report” guide. The lab also maintains a list of Kentucky producers with hay for sale. The Forage lab may be contacted at 1-800-248-4628 or check their website at: http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/forage-program.html.
Contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at 502-255-7188 for more information.        
Educational programs of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.
Michael Pyles is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture.