Making hay this year . . .

Sometimes you just can't predict what will sell

By Jeff Moyer, Farm Manager, The Rodale Institute

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world—convinces me that we're on the right road."


Editor's NOTE: We asked Jeff Moyer, The Institute's farm manager going on 27 years now, to consider writing a monthly column on what's happening here at our 333-acre organic research farm in eastern Pennsylvania.

Anyone who's seen Jeff spell-bind a field day audience with facts and anecdotes about cover crops and crop rotations knows he's a natural-born talker. He works that field day revival tent, thumping the gospel of organic like a preacher thumping his bible.

We were hoping his gift for gab would translate onto the page ... and we think it does. So here, without further ado, is Jeff Moyer -- from one farm to another.

KUTZTOWN, PA, December 3, 2002: This is the year to have organic hay in Pennsylvania.

Most years I begin selling hay after the first of the year and we sell through the spring -- mostly to area organic dairies or maybe even some local horse owners. But because of short supplies last year, the dry summer this year, and more livestock than ever being certified as organic, we are sold out in November.

How did this all come about? Well, I had some straw and rye cover crop seed I wanted to move this fall. So I put a small--ok, very small--ad in a regional farm paper. Since the ad was small and short, adding the word hay didn’t cost anything extra and I decided to throw it in to let folks know I had hay, thinking they might keep it in mind for future reference.

Well, I haven’t sold any straw. I sold only a small amount of rye seed. But the phone rang off the hook for that hay. In fact, it was all promised in one day. And the prices for good quality hay are quite strong. I got $180.00 per ton picked up at the farm. The new federal standards are helping to drive the market.

The dry summer not only caused hay tonnage to be light, but forced grazers to begin feeding hay much earlier than they would normally do. The hay we did make was excellent quality with perfect drying weather. The pastures all browned out in August. Even the trees began to turn colors in early September. We had good rain through late May and early June, so I would say things weren’t as bad this summer as they were in 1999, when the drought hit us really hard..

I grow a mixture of alfalfa and timothy. The timothy is planted in the fall with my wheat crop, usually the first week of October. Then I frost seed the alfalfa into the wheat in late February or early March. I rigged up a small, one-bushel, 12-volt spinner- seeder on the front of my garden tractor and can seed the alfalfa in just a few cold mornings.

Almost all my hay is put up as dry hay in small square bales. Even though it is old technology, it seems to suit most folks just fine. However, several of my hay customers have been telling me that they would prefer large round bales, for ease of handling. So this year I put all of my fourth cutting up as round wrapped bales.

For me this was a new experience. I was really forced into it because my fourth cutting came so late in the season, mid-October, that I couldn’t get it to dry before the forecast rains. I borrowed a neighbor’s equipment to bale it and wrap it.

(Where would we be without neighbors? Boy, that’s a whole article in its self. This is one of the last remaining occupations where you still get to help out your neighbor.)

I thought I might have trouble selling the round bales since up until now I’ve never bought or sold a round bale in my life. Well, remember that straw and rye seed I had? I still have it, so another advertisement was in the making. I repeated the same add with the change that read wrapped round bales instead of just hay. To make a long story short, I still have the straw, and that rye seed is still in my bin, but those round bales all sold on day one.

I guess this all points out that it pays to have a diversified operation, corn and soybeans, small grain and forage, fruits and vegetables, all on the same farm. Two years ago I had to practically beg folks to take the last of my hay late in spring so I could make room for the next season. This year, I wish I had 10 times as much. Every year is different.

Well that’s farming – from one farm to another.