An interview with Rick Waitley, Executive Director of Idaho Hay and Forage Association
Q: How did you become part of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association?
A: In 1997, the Idaho Hay Association (what they were called at that time) came to me with the idea of wanting to become stronger in the way they supported their members and being represented in legislative matters that could affect the hay industry in Idaho. Since that time, I have been serving as the Executive Director and working with the Board of Directors to make sure these goals are met.
Q: What is your role as Executive Director for the association?
A: I am responsible for much of the association management items. This would include assisting with board meetings, keeping track of the finances and making sure they have an image that reflects their ideals. In addition, I also represent them as a lobbyist to the Idaho legislature and represent them on any issues that could have an impact on the forage industry.
One of the big things I try and concentrate on for the organization is providing a common voice in matters that affect the hay and forage industry in Idaho. There are several organizations in the state that aren’t represented on a regular basis when it comes to legislative or legal issues, so I feel it is important to do my best to keep members not only informed of what is happening, but make sure they are represented when decisions are made.
Q: What does the Idaho Hay and Forage Association do for its members?
A: The three areas the association helps its members with are education, promotion and public policy.
In education, the Hay and Forage Association supports the Idaho FFA Foundation, Idaho Ag in the Classroom program and the Idaho Water Users Association. Anything that promotes agriculture and hay production from an educational standpoint is something we consider to be important and the association tries to support those things.
The part of supporting education is for the actual growers who make up the association. The Idaho Alfalfa and Forage Conference, held early each year in cooperation with the University of Idaho, is a joint effort where we sit down with the organizers and try to determine what issues our growers are currently facing. The university and organizers then work on putting together speakers and workshops that fit the ongoing needs of our members.
On the promotional side, every Friday, members of the association receive the current USDA market report for both Idaho and the Northwest regarding current hay prices and ongoing pricing trends for hay throughout the area. Without current information we have found many members have a tougher time determining what their current hay stocks are worth. It is a tool we are able to easily provide on an ongoing basis that makes marketing their hay easier for them.
In addition to the weekly e-mails, we also produce a directory that not only lists out the members of the association by region in the state, but also lists out services and potential vendors that growers can use to help with various aspects of their operation. Related services include tarping companies, trucking companies and hay brokers.
Over 3,300 copies of the directory are produced annually. Those end up in the hands of all the dairymen, beef producers, sheep and wool growers, horse enthusiasts and anyone else who needs information about purchasing hay or hay-related items in the state of Idaho. Copies are also sent to farm service agencies, farm credit bureaus and the different county extension agents throughout the state so people are aware of the hay industry and those involved with it in their respective areas.
The third area we try to support for the organization is on the legislative side. We are able to help serve as a watchdog lobbyist for the organization by supporting not only this organization, but other ag-related industries and keeping them informed as to what is happening with issues that could impact their growers but also gives them a voice if an issue needs to be addressed directly with members of the Idaho legislature. Over the past couple of years, we have represented them on water use issues, trucking issues, lending laws, bonding laws and any other issue that deals with agriculture in general.
Q: What would be an example of how the association is able to continue to support its members during the growing season?
A: We started marketing to our producers a ‘hay stick’ that was developed out of the University of California. It gives our producers the ability to go out and measure the nutritive value of their hay, much like they were measuring the height of their hay with a yard stick. Using a conversion table for hay produced in our area, growers are able to quickly determine at what point they need to be harvesting fields to get the most from them. We are able to continue to support this effort on an ongoing basis and keep them aware of tools and ideas they can use to be as productive as possible on a regular basis.
Another way we are able to keep hay producers up-to-date on information would be like last year, when we had wetter weather and hay fires and moldy conditions crept up on many producers who had never faced those problems before. We were able to get valuable information from the state extension service and quickly disseminate it to our members to help them deal with the unusual situation. Any time there is information of importance, we do our best to get it out as quickly as possible so the best management decisions can be made in a timely manner.
Q: What is one thing about the association that most people might not readily understand?
A: It is important for people to realize that the Board of Directors is a group of individuals that represents many different aspects of the hay and forage industry. We try to include producers who represent both large and small growers from across the state, along with educational and industry-related individuals. By working with a large cross-section of the industry, I feel members get both good representation of the industry in the board and a mix of people who can look at issues and opportunities from many different angles and come up with solutions and ideas that wouldn’t come otherwise.
What I respect about the board is that in many organizations, only the big players make the decisions for everyone. Here, small and large producers along with custom harvesters each have representation on an ongoing basis. I have a lot of respect for these people and how they allow everyone to be heard and work together at dealing with a large spectrum of issues.
Q: How can individuals learn more about the Idaho Hay and Forage Association?
A: One of the best ways to learn more about the organization is to visit www.idahohay.com, our website. There they can get more information about the annual hay and forage conference, get proceedings from the previous conference, find information about hay growers in their region of the state, get the latest information on alfalfa variety trials conducted through the University of Idaho and place want ads for hay that is needed. We try to keep the information up-to-date as legislation and other important issues come up. FG