Hay growers may find regular customers in U.S.

More hay moving south | A large demand for square bales could boost trade, even when drought isn’t a motivator

Canadian hay might keep heading down the highway even after the effects of last year’s drought in the U.S. Midwest are just a memory, says one marketer.

Connections made in 2012-13 have helped reveal a steady market that might fit some prairie farmers’ needs.

“We have big buyers down in the States and they buy hay year in and year out,” said crop and input marketer Alan Johnston of Welwyn, Sask.

“They can’t grow enough hay in the U.S. to supply their market. They need hay all the time.”

U.S. feedgrains such as corn have moved north into Western Canada for years, and smaller amounts of Canadian feedgrains have moved to U.S. markets.

However, hay trade has been slight, mostly because of the product’s bulkiness and low price per pound.

Some Canadian farmers near the border have sold hay bales to American farmers and buyers, but it was a sporadic and unorganized trade before last year.

However, American buyers began aggressively searching for new suppliers last year as the drought ravaged American feed crops such as corn and soybean meal, dried out pastures and reduced the hay crop.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba had decent supplies of hay bales and good hay crops that could easily be tapped.

U.S. government supports helped cover the costs, and bales started moving south, sometimes directly to farms but generally to marshalling yards.

Johnston helped broker more than 1,000 truckloads of hay to the United States last year.

He said the trade can continue post-drought, but it will probably be more selective. U.S. hay brokers, facing big transportation bills, don’t want to take loads of 1,000 pound round bales because they are bulky and expensive to move.

They want big square bales that weigh 1,600 to 1,700 lb., which isn’t what most prairie farmers are equipped to produce.

However, they might start making them if prices stay high.

“I think there will be people growing to accommodate them,” said Johnston.

“They have big, big demand for large square bales. They can haul them cheaper and they get more of a load on.”

That might make the feed situation tighter for prairie farmers, who are used to local hay always being available.

Farmers are discovering this spring that hay won’t always be there, even if the previous summer produced an OK crop, he added.

“The local guys finally woke up and said, ‘it’s been a long winter, I’m going to need some hay,’ and they started trying to buy local stuff,” he said.

“I think every one of them thought they wouldn’t need it, but then we had such a long winter.”

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