A Lethbridge forage company is negotiating to sell its product to Saudi Arabia.
Containers of double compressed hay – 1,000 tonnes of alfalfa and 200 tonnes of timothy hay – are making the 45 day journey to the Middle East, said marketing vice-president Peter Ball of Green Prairie International.
This first shipment is a pilot project, and negotiations are underway for more shipments that could eventually lead to 20,000 tonnes of forage sold to Saudi Arabia.
“We are one of the first Canadians to do this,” Ball said.
The company has had a strong presence in Japan and South Korea for 20 years.
“We are well known there now,” Ball said. “Green Prairie has a good reputation.”
Saudi Arabia had previously grown most of its own alfalfa, but water shortages have forced the government to save water and import grain and forage.
Ball said the Saudis are expected to eventually import 60 percent of their forage needs for dairy cattle, race horses and camels. They need two to 2.5 million tonnes of forage per year.
“They are running out of water and they can’t sustain it,” said Ball.
Green Prairie is shipping high-grade, high-protein alfalfa for dairy producers as well as standard grade product with 16 to 18 percent protein for other livestock.
The company is using the same quality standards that it built for the Asian market. It handles timothy hay, alfalfa hay and pellets as well as other livestock roughage products.
The deal came about when Saudi companies sent out e-mails looking for hay. Green Prairie had surplus product and started negotiations.
The biggest competitors are Spain, Italy and France, which offer a different product at a lower price.
The Saudis also buy pellets and other further processed forages, but they want compressed hay because fewer nutrients are lost.
A high Canadian dollar and increasing container freight rates have affected future negotiations, but Ball is confident more deals are in the offing because the new customers want quality.
“It is a matter of economics. If we can compete with the Europeans on price, they can’t beat us on quality,” he said.
The alfalfa came mostly from the company’s Utah facility as well as an Oregon-based partnership, while the timothy was grown mostly in Alberta.