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Sitting down with... Don Leonard, Colorado Hay and Forage Association

FG Editor Darren Olsen Published on 02 March 2010

Q. How did the Colorado Hay and Forage Association get started?
The association started several years ago with a few producers and brokers coming together to try and find a better way to market and represent Colorado hay to potential buyers throughout the intermountain West.

I have been a member for over 20 years and have seen the organization continue to grow and become a real tool for growers in our area.

Don LeonardQ. What are some of the more important functions the association performs for its members?
Today, I would say the most important aspect of the association is the networking it facilitates for our producers.

By taking an active role in developing contacts and markets for our growers, they are able to spend more time producing quality feed and still have people who want their hay.

Relationships have become key in keeping the lifeblood flowing for producers, especially over the last couple of years.

It used to be a producer could pretty much grow a decent hay crop and really have no trouble finding a buyer. Now it takes time to find the right people to work with and both of you be able to come to an agreement as to what they want in comparison to what you can provide.

By networking, we are better able to find the right grower for the right buyer and be able to sustain the relationship over time. It is much more a ‘grow and market’ rather than a ‘grow and sell’ environment than it used to be.

Aside from marketing, we have also taken part in supporting or discouraging certain issues that affect forage producers. We currently are in support of the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

We feel it is a tool our members could benefit from even though not everyone may choose to use it. We just want to keep options open to our members.

In the past we have worked to see the standardization of NIR testing and pushed to get a weed-free hay program recognized in the state. We would also like to see a decent market reporting system put in place that accurately reflects current hay prices. Although the USDA does some reporting now, we feel it doesn’t always reflect current market conditions.

Q. What makes growing hay in Colorado a good choice for producers?
Colorado is situated in an area that provides a lot of different types of markets for hay producers. We have several larger dairies that have gone up in recent years and are also in a high-production beef area.

We also have a lot of horse raisers and enthusiasts that seem to create a lot of niche markets for people who want to look at producing for those folks.

We also see more and more hay leaving the state and ending up at dairies in southern regions. It used to be that most of the hay produced in the state stayed in a relatively small area, but more and more we see hay moving east or south of the Four Corners region to fill needs out there.

Most years the weather seems to cooperate with what needs to happen to make good hay. There will always be a storm or two that keeps us humble, but most growers are getting to the point where they can work around weather concerns.

Q. What would you like to see happen in the future with the association?
Right now, I see a need to continue to attract younger members into the organization. It seems like we attend meetings and the same people are there that have been there awhile.

If we want to continue to remain vital to the industry, we need to continue to attract those growers who will be around for a long time.  FG