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
(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.