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Washington State Hay Growers Association Annual Conference and Trade Show

Brad Nelson Published on 27 January 2012

The best I can do is to review the parts of the conference that stood out to me. Others who attended may note other things that stood out to them as impressive or important.

Wednesday, the classes and presentations were divided into “A” and “B” sessions. Attendees had to choose which place they wanted to be. In the state of Washington, use of insecticides and fumigants requires a license.

Most of the presentations on the first day of the conference counted as continuing education credits for hay and forage growers to maintain their pesticide applicators license.  

The Washington Farm Bureau gave two presentations that dealt with farm safety. They went over the safety training procedures that, first of all, will prevent most accidents. They also reviewed the process of reporting an accident to the Washington Labor and Industries people.

They fill the function of OSHA in most industries in the state of Washington. This is the agency which collects the monies from employers and employees as a payroll tax and funds medical treatment for on the job injuries and compensation to individuals not able to work following an accident.  

The L&I rates each employer on accident history and will use that rating to determine the rate each must pay into the fund. The Washington Farm Bureau has been very pro-active in helping Washington agriculture to lower exposure to accident related costs by extensive training. 

Safety training requires documentation. That means no matter how well you train an employee in the safe operation of a machine, if you did not write down the time, place, and nature of the training, it did not happen in the eyes of L&I.

You need to require the employee to sign his/her name to a document stating that they received and understood the safety training.  

A review was made on the procedures L&I will follow in the event of an accident. Of course a more serious injury or a death will trigger a quicker and more intense follow-up. The bottom line is, we in the agricultural industry have to play by the rules of the state agency that oversees workplace safety. 

Life is easier and less expensive for all concerned when the employers know these rules and the employees are appropriately trained in safety. By the way, if you have an above-average safety record for your industry, your rate of payment into the L&I fund can be reduced.  

Pocket gopher control was addressed from a number of angles. Blue Mountain Wildlife gave a presentation that included a live barn owl.  They explained how a population of barn owls would contain and reduce rodent populations.

Washington State University presented a review of the traditional methods. He pointed out that a state initiative a few years back outlawed body holding traps. That initiative been ruled to apply to gophers and moles.

Traps for mice and rats are exempted.  He then went on with a discussion of the types of gopher traps and instructions for their use.

Covering chemicals, he pointed out that if a gopher eats less than a lethal dose of a poison he will remember what made him sick and not eat more. 

The baits that are warfarin based poisons require that the animal eat it continuously for about a week before it takes effect.  Warfarin is an anti-coagulant that in doses used to control rodents causes the animal to bleed to death internally.  

On display at the trade show were some devices to control gophers.  There were at least two systems for planting bait, and a machine that compressed the exhaust gas from a gasoline engine and then forced it under pressure into the tunnels of gophers.  

Roundup-ready alfalfa was discussed along with other genetic modifications to the alfalfa plant. Roundup-ready alfalfa has been approved for release to domestic growers.

Japan has approved the import of roundup ready alfalfa. Most of the end users in Japan are afraid of it, and are refusing to accept it. Until that situation changes, exporters are refusing any alfalfa even contaminated with the Roundup-ready characteristic.

Other interesting alfalfa experiments include field trials of non-lodging alfalfa. This is looking at alfalfa as a source of bio-mass for ethanol production as an alternative to corn or switchgrass.

Reduced lignin alfalfa is in the field trial stage. Lignin is one of the fibers in the stem of the alfalfa plant that is not digestible.

By reducing the amount of lignin the digestible fiber content of the plant goes up. The trials are showing equal tonnage with traditional varieties.

It appears to some that the reduced-lignin alfalfa cut at full-bloom stage will equal the digestibility of traditional alfalfa cut in the bud stage, with a significantly higher tonnage per acre.

After the presentation, I asked the presenter if a standard forage analysis would show the reduced lignin variety as opposed to traditional. He said not at this time.

As far as a time-line, it would be seven to twelve years before seed became available, if the phobia for genetically modified alfalfa abates.

The worldwide aspect of forage markets was covered from a number of angles. The weather in Canada and Australia can have a dramatic effect on the price of West Coast hay in the United States.

The oaten hay from Australia is a competitor for timothy and grass hays from the USA.  Canadian alfalfa and Timothy compete with domestic production for the Asian markets.  

China and Saudi Arabia appear to be huge expansion markets for hay. Argentina seems to be in a position to export hay, which will add to the international competition for these markets. When any product or commodity goes up in price, it attracts the attention of anyone remotely able to enter that market.  

Water is the big limiting factor for forage production. Areas of the mid-east are finding it more practical to use what water they have for vegetable production and drinking water and buying most of the forages they need for their livestock.

On the U.S. West Coast, we are seeing municipalities seeking to buy the water rights from agricultural entities far upstream from the cities. The statement has been made that water is the new oil.

The price projection for hay for the next year is similar to what we have right now. Seth Hoyt, of The Hoyt Report gave a qualified guess that West Coast alfalfa would start about $250 per ton for 2012 production.  

There is still strong competition for land that can grow hay. Corn and other commodities enjoy a strong futures market, so much that growers can lock in a high price right now for 2012 production.

The local feeling is that alfalfa seed is being sold only in amounts normal for the replacement of stands in normal rotation. While there are many unknowns, it appears that agriculture in general can expect another one to five years of profitability.

The oil price projection was not heartening. It was noted that U.S. refineries are finding foreign markets more lucrative for gasoline and diesel than domestic markets. That means, while we are paying $4.00 for $1.00 worth of diesel, diesel is being exported because it is worth more overseas.  

On the upside, price graphs over several years show the price of corn, wheat, milk, fertilizer  and hay to somewhat follow the price of oil.  That was supposed to make us feel good.

The great hall of the Three Rivers Convention was filled with the best the equipment manufactures could produce, and manned with their best representatives to convince growers that they could not live without this wonderful machine. 

Some things were new, some were improved, but I never saw a price tag on anything.  Maybe if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.  

A great opportunity for all sides of the hay and forage industry to get together and conspire on how to make more money the next year.  FG  

Brad Nelson