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Equipment Hub: Market your hay for the highest dollar with precision technology solutions

Jordan J. Milewski for Progressive Forage Published on 31 May 2021

True or false: Hay is priced, along with other farm commodities, with its value dictated by recent and local auction prices.

In an article penned for the University of Wisconsin Extension, Dr. Dan Undersander said, “There is no one answer to how much forage quality pays because of the different ways value is achieved.”

If you’re selling hay as a commodity, or buying hay to feed livestock, auction pricing may be the most traditional – and certainly the most established – value measurement. Whether buying or selling, successful commodity marketing essentially boils down to taking something that’s mundane and differentiating it.

No, I am not talking about bale weight, seasonality of the cut or even the color and smell. These are ordinary characteristics every producer uses to describe their crop and to make value claims. If you want to get the highest dollar for every bale or ton, differentiation is a must. Before you can successfully differentiate your product, you must know what makes it different. If you know more about your product than a competitor, you have a marketable advantage.

Quite simply, precision solutions and technology have the potential to deliver differentiation through verifiable data that provides not only growing and harvesting insights but may afford potential buyers legitimate reasons to pay top dollar.

Let me begin by saying color is not a good quality indicator. While it is useful directionally, it is a subjective measure based on a person’s vision and not on meaningful or measured data. Establishing quality can be a real challenge.

I have and always will advocate for hay quality testing. Sampling is straightforward, provides measured non-subjective data for comparison and is typically done by a verified third party. Yet it is impractical to sample every individual bale. And with quality changes within an individual field, harvest cycles or truck loads, random sampling can provide only an average quality indicator. The irony of random sampling is: The results delivered, while a good quality indicator, remain random and average. The only way to overcome this would be to somehow test every individual bale to ensure bales are sorted, stored, stacked, fed and sold based upon measured forage quality.

Enter modern precision and technology to overcome this paradox. The coined phrase “precision solutions” should be thought of simply as “technology that delivers the necessary data where there is no practical or mechanical solution available.”

Modern precision solutions are more than autoguidance. Onboard moisture and weight can not only help producers understand yield, but this data can be unitized to guide agronomic decision-making that results in greater yields. Essentially, when producers are doing most of it right and making educated agronomic decisions to do even more of it right, the operation’s bottom line benefits. Careful input management can mean a lower production cost and more dollars returned on every bale and ton.

From implements to self-propelled equipment, technology is fully integrated. This allows producers to display, capture and learn from vast amounts of information. The arrival of onboard bale weight and moisture sensing provides producers with precision building blocks. If bale weight and density goals are not achieved, quick adjustment is all that is needed. When a damp windrow persists, operators can choose to move on to another windrow or to continue baling and set the damp bales aside. These are common precision solution-driven decisions.

A next-level precision solution is measuring weight and moisture and then calculating or predicting relative feed value (RFV) for every bale. Now, that is different. The ability to accurately predict a bale’s RFV is not science fiction: It is available today, and it could be a game-changer for hay buyers and sellers alike.

It is possible to measure moisture, weight and calculate RFV, then tag each bale with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag so its vital statistics are captured and easily recalled. If microchipping each bale sounds like a bit much, a simple dye marker kit may also be used to mark bales. A pump-and-spray nozzle at the back of the bale chute marks individual bales with food-grade dye for easy identification, making quality sorting, stacking and marketing possible.

If you’re selling hay as a commodity, remember this vital agronomic knowledge is essential to those feeding hay to balance rations to improve animal health and production. Additionally, many large livestock operations would benefit from this information well in advance of animal consumption to improve planned commodities purchases and operations management.

If you’re harvesting your own hay, or custom farming for other growers, this data can be used to generate helpful visualizations, reveal needed prescriptions that address problems and ultimately lower production costs while improving yields.

Across the hay and forage equipment industry, manufacturers are building and expanding precision data acquisition capabilities. Through connected platforms, many modern agricultural tractors, self-propelled machines and ISOBUS-capable implements can communicate through the tractor or directly. This makes it simple to capture, transfer and securely store agronomic data. With the aid of modern telematics portals or complete farming software packages, the transfer of agronomic data through an application programmable interface (API) is easy and even configured to transmit automatically.

Cut, seasonality, weight, color and smell are staples in the hay trade that will always remain. Producers selling hay as a commodity will get their highest-dollar return as precision technology solutions move to the mainstream and provides differentiation. Likewise, today’s savvy hay buyers can see their highest returns when they use these same solutions to confidently buy quality.  end mark

Jordan J. Milewski
  • Jordan J. Milewski

  • Hay and Forage, Crop Preparation Marketing Manager
  • New Holland