MONCTON, N.B. — Forage producers in Eastern Canada might be well positioned to export hay to the United States horse market.
Freight rates coming out of Ontario and Quebec are competitive and hay can be shipped within two-day’s time to the southern tip of Florida, said Alex Christensen, president of Southeast Hay Distributors, based in Florida.
There are plenty of opportunities to sell hay to retailers, hobby farms, small animals, pets, camelids and zoos but the real money could be in the competitive horse arena.
The U.S. pleasure horse and ranch horse markets are huge but they are less willing to pay.
“They are running a business and they have a cost and loss sheet and they do everything they can to control costs,” he said at the November Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association meeting in Moncton.
Racing, show and competitive horses make up 10 percent of the U.S. industry. Within the equine competition world, there are 132,000 members across 29 disciplines.
Members spend on average about $16,000 a year on their horses with the most being spent on feed. Christensen estimates the horse feed market is worth about $371 million a year.
This is a niche market.
Demographics show horse owners are 85 percent female and 66 percent have a degree, average income is $185,000 and net worth is around $1 million. They have an average of four horses and compete around six times a year.
An American horse industry survey in 2019 showed a confident business where growth is expected and young people are joining. More than 60 percent said they were willing to reduce expenses in other areas of their life to cope with the increased costs of owning a horse.
Emotion is a key component in the horse sector. Owners want to do well at competitions and they want to take good care of their horses.
The federation of equestrian sports represents the highest level of riding and people in this sector are interested in competing and spending money especially when the economy is strong.
This is an area of opportunity for Canadian hay growers.
The buyers want high quality, consistent forage. High fibre forage like timothy, heavy grass mixes or three-way mixes from first or second cuts are desirable. They are often looking for small square bales and prefer hay that was stored and free of mould.
Advances in baling equipment have enabled producers in the east to move forward in this market.
Improved bale compression, packaging and grinding systems make it easier for the producer to get it from the field to the market.
“Canadian products could consider branding because they are popular,” Christensen said.
Hay producers need to get in front of what the consumer wants.
Consumers are accustomed to using services like Amazon Prime with almost instant delivery. Producers in Eastern Canada can mimic some of that by delivering hay to Florida in two days at a reasonable cost.
Christensen suggested that producers place as much information as possible on a website, including forage analysis. The buyers want to look at the product and be educated about it but they often do not want to talk over the phone.