BRODERICK, Sask. – They come to Jerry Eliason’s farm near Broderick, Sask., from the other side of the world to taste, smell and ogle the timothy hay bales stacked eight deep in a shed.
He expected new buyers to arrive any day, to pick out the lots that are bound for Asian countries.
“The Japanese seem to buy with their eyes. Green is good to them; the greener it is, the more they’ll pay,” Eliason said.
His shed, now under construction, is a 60,000 sq. foot metal-sided unit that can hold close to $1 million worth of bales for export. Eliason wants to tap into year-round markets for timothy, sold mainly to dairy farms in Japan at around $180 a tonne.
He told farmers attending the Canadian Hay Association field tour July 20 that he plans to fill the shed next year after expanding forage production to 1,100 acres from 600.
This year’s dry conditions mean a shortage of feed and better than normal prices for bales that don’t make the grade for export. Eliason expected domestic prices for timothy to be around $100 a tonne.
The Eliasons got into timothy three years ago, switching from canola and cereals.
“We were having a hard time pencilling black any more on any of the annual crops,” he said.
Price, hardiness and its resistance to flooding and mole infestations were among reasons for choosing timothy over alfalfa.
“You can’t kill timothy,” he said.
The farm switched to larger bales to reduce labour and use fewer machines.
In July, Eliason baled his fields up to eight hours a day, quitting when the drying winds petered out.
The new shed is intended to keep the 590-kilogram rectangular bales dry and prevent mould before they are shipped for compression to the nearby Elcan Forage plant at Broderick.
There they are compacted and “containerized” before being transported to the West Coast and placed on ships bound for the Far East.
Greg Sommerfeld, general manager of Elcan Forage, said the best export opportunities are in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Mexico, as dairy and horse feed.
He is lukewarm about exploring organic markets.
“There’s not enough of a premium in organics yet to mess with it,” he said. “It’s an extra hassle to deal with it.”
Rely on locals
Sommerfeld said the plant, which also makes compressed feed cubes for livestock, gets its timothy mainly from local farmers and its alfalfa from growers within 400 kilometres.
He predicted a tough year for alfalfa, hit hard by the drought. Prices and supply remain stable for timothy.
His plant deals almost exclusively with export markets, although this year has seen increased domestic sales for horse feed.
He said the Australian drought may also open up possibilities for Canadian hay and oat growers, although sweeter Australian oats are favoured over the Canadian supply.
“When the supply gets tight, people get very price conscious and maybe they will lower their standards somewhat,” Sommerfeld said.
“There isn’t much hay out there,” said Ed Anaka, president of the Saskatchewan Forage Council.
He said forage crops more than two years old were yielding half of normal.
Those planted within the last two years were faring better, at about 80 percent of normal yields.
In his farm district of Gorlitz, Anaka said bales in storage have been sold and shipped, mainly to Alberta and southern Saskatchewan.