April 13, 2006: “Help thy neighbor.”
This statement means as much in the organic community as the
commercial slogan, “Beef. It’s what’s for
dinner,” does for U.S. cattle producers.
The latter slogan helps cattlemen sell more of their product
to U.S. consumers. The first statement explains how organic
producers, especially, learn from those around them (by example
or by mistake) to raise hay, feed and animals the healthy
way as they work through certification and production questions.
During a hay deficit, these organic farmers are finding that
helping each other means detailed communication that is clear,
thorough and timely.
Despite the organic goal to build self-sufficient farming
enterprises that use crop rotations, cover crops and sod crops
to create on-farm forage and grain enough for the livestock,
drought is causing deficits up and down the East Coast. With
the expanding organic dairy sector, eastern farmers and their
support personnel have to figure out how to create new organic
marketing infrastructure to meet spot demand when the weather
acts out. Some old tools are getting a new workout in inter-regional
and national organic hay trading, while farmer-to-farmer networks
still work best in some localities.
SW Virginia: Loyal customers, strong demand
When Gary Lantz, a certified organic beef, pork and alfalfa
hay producer, analyzes his projected hay crop production,
he notifies his dairy, dairy goat and beef customers in Virginia,
West Virginia and North Carolina.
“These customers have been very loyal. We always give
first consideration to these loyal customers before selling
our quality products to anyone else,” says Lantz who
manages Cannon Hill Farm in Mt. Jackson, Virginia. Assisting
him in this family farming operation is his wife, Martha,
and son, Billy.
Lantz did not place a classified ad in a newspaper or on
a hay website, and he did not stand along I-81 holding a big
“Hay For Sale” sign. He relied on the old-fashioned
method. “They found me,” he says. “It seems
like word-of-mouth is the best method of advertisement.”
As the need arises, the Lantz family may benefit from more
sales, should they decide to increase their organic hay production.
None of their neighbors raise certified organic hay. “In
our area, there is a demand for organic hay. You have a lot
of dairy farmers who are changing from conventional to organic
farming practices, and I anticipate an increase in the need
for hay that is certified organic. There is an abundance of
hay available in the conventional farming market; however,
the certified organic hay market is in short supply.”
As certified organic producers for three years, they feed
90 percent of their hay to their own livestock and sell the
rest. Cannon Hill Farm offers regular alfalfa and alfalfa
blends in square bales as well as round bales. Loading services
are provided on the farm; however, customers are responsible
for providing transportation.
Virginia overall: hay list by mail, email
To assist farmers in marketing their certified organic hay,
Lantz says they can place an ad on the Hay Clearing House
newsletter, a buyer-seller connection offered by the Virginia
Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS).
This quarterly newsletter, created in 1985, is distributed
to 900 mail subscribers, 100 e-mail and fax subscribers, and
online at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketnews/publications.html,
says J.P. Welch, market news manager. Certified organic hay
producers and conventional farmers can place their ad in the
newsletter at no cost. (See resource list.)
Central Maryland: Word of mouth works
In Frederick County, Md., certified organic producers also
find communication by word-of-mouth works best for them when
selling or needing hay. The county is just east of Hagerstown
close to Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“We only have a few certified growers and a few certified
livestock producers in the area, and they know each other
so communication has not been an issue,” says Stanley
Fultz, acting county Extension director and dairy science
Extension agent in the Frederick County Office of Maryland
Cooperative Extension. “Networking through meetings,
Web sites, Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Hay
directory, etc. are all possibilities.”
New York: Email, talk and classifieds
Much like Maryland certified organic growers, organic New
Yorkers communicate among themselves with an added dimension.
“We communicate via listserves—Odairy and OMILK,
and privately by e-mail and phone,” says Kathie Arnold,
who farms with her husband, Rick; and his brother, Bob, on
Twin Oaks Dairy LLC in Truxton, N.Y., which is between the
New York cities of Syracuse and Ithaca. “These listserves
have organic producers from all across the country on them,
with the preponderance of members from the Northeast.”
Certified organic producers can also visit the Web site of
the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) at
and place a free classified on its Web site or in its quarterly
newsletter NODPA News, says Arnold who is newsletter co-editor
and the NOPDA policy committee chair.
SE Pennsylvania: Drought spurs imports
Forrest Stricker of Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania
knows first-hand what the costs are for buying organic feed
and hauling organic hay long distances. This past year, Stricker
estimates he spent $150,000 on feed -- $100,000 more than
usual. He has paid hauling fees of $2,000 to $2,500 per tractor
trailer load for hay from Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska, Kansas,
Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota. In all during 2005
and now into 2006, he has trucked in at least 15 tractor trailer
“It’s been one of the worse years I’ve
ever had as far as farm-producing forage,” says Stricker
whose operation was certified organic in August 1999.
It wasn’t always dry. In 2003 and 2004, his farm was
able to produce enough forage to feed his dairy cows because
he received at least average rainfall. Unfortunately, 2005
was a different story. From April to October, the only rainfall
he received was what little a hurricane brought in July. In
June, he started feeding stored winter feed. Before trucking
hay to his farm, Stricker searched for high-value, quality
feed hay locally, but he couldn’t find any because of
the drought. Quickly, he started looking elsewhere. He found
organic hay through classifieds in regional farm papers such
as Lancaster Farming and on Web sites such as NODPA’s
and Pennsylvania Certified Organic at www.paorganic.org.
While the milk buyer pay increases (see below) helped Stricker
and other organic farmers, he has learned some valuable lessons
in 2005 and early 2006 about what the organic industry lacks.
He believes that a specialized organic hay and feed guide
for suppliers and buyers would benefit all producers.
This May, his farm will start producing forage again, and
so far, so good. One thing is for sure, he doesn’t want
to see another costly year like 2005. “I hope we’re
done buying for awhile,” Stricker says.
Milk buyers try to ease hay cost squeeze
The extra cost to operate has been enormous, but Stricker
and other organic producers in Pennsylvania received help
from the organic milk companies operating in their area. Realizing
the additional expense on their growers, some increased their
base milk prices by as much as $6 per hundredweight.
For the past two years, Horizon Organic has adjusted its
base price to farmers. In 2005, the organic milk company increased
pay prices to its Northeast (Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont,
New Hampshire, Maine) farmers by 12 percent over 2004 pay
prices, says Jule Taylor, general manager of milk supply operations.
In 2006, the company again voluntarily upped its pay prices
by an additional 14 percent over the 2005 pay prices. In the
Midwest and West, the company adjusted prices as well by $4
to $5 per hundredweight, less of an increase because of their
Horizon Organic has felt the pain of its producers. “Increased
cost of production on the farms is a primary contributor for
the pay-price increases,” Taylor says. “Feed and
energy are the primary increases impacting organic dairy farms
in our system today. Since we own and operate a dairy farm
in Maryland, we are able to see directly the challenges that
our farmer partners are facing.
“Horizon Organic initiated the voluntary increase to
ensure our farmer partners’ sustainability,” she
continues. “We are building a network and supply base
for today and into the future. It is imperative that we work
together to ensure the future success of our farmer partners,
and therefore our own milk supply.”
Organic Valley, the brand established by the cooperative
of family farms known as Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool
(CROPP), has also increased its prices. “CROPP cooperative
raised the pay price from $22.15 per hundredweight in 2005
prices to a base price in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland
and Virginia to $25.75 per hundredweight plus payments for
extra components and quality payments on top of that,”
says Peter Miller, the cooperative’s Northeast regional
dairy pool coordinator.
To keep stable payment prices throughout the year, the cooperative
set the 2006 price program at the end of 2005. “We raised
prices to get money to the farmers through our sales to help
with the cost of living and [because of] competition from
the other companies,” Miller says.
He adds that Organic Valley raised the pay price to address
real costs and maintain a working relationship between cooperative
members and the CROPP management team.
Organic farms try to grow their own
New York’s Arnold says weather, especially drought
and sometimes excess rain, affects the certified organic hay
demand on the U.S. East Coast. Nonetheless, demand typically
does not outweigh supply in many years. “I don’t
believe there has been a strong, sure market for organic hay
in the East most years because most organic dairy producers
-- with the exception of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania --
plan to grow most all of their own forage,” she says.
“It’s only in years of weather-related problems
that many have to look to buy a hay crop.
“Part of the organic model is to be sustainable and
that would usually mean not planning to be trucking bulky
materials long distance on a routine basis. Also, if a dairy
farm [producer] imports too many feedstuffs without enough
land for manure spreading, he may end up with a nutrient imbalance,”
Arnold says. “I think nutritional quality would be number
one when looking for milking-cow forage, but it would have
to be in a form the farm is set up to handle. Some farms only
want big bales. The longer the distance of transport, then
the more important it is that the moisture be low to save
on hauling costs.”
Talk now for hay later
Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens produce certified organic
grains 1,400-acres near Penn Yan, New York, where they operate
an organic feed mill, Lakeview Organic Grain. Mary-Howell
says their frequent feed contacts confirm many farmers in
the Northeast have experienced a real supply crisis for hay
this winter. Drought cut production, and now demand is fueling
purchases with sometimes hefty costs for long-distance transportation.
To avoid another hay deficit this coming year, she advises
organic dairy farmers to contact organic grain and hay producers
now to discuss supply rather than waiting until next winter.
“Organic dairy farmers, who know they aren’t
likely to produce enough hay or other forage for their 2006
needs, would do well to start communicating with nearby grain
and hay farmers now so their specific quality, product and
packaging needs are considered as hay season begins, rather
than waiting until next winter and having to scramble to find
something that will work,” Martens says.
“Most hay farmers will make an effort to put up what
you need if they know in advance. If more organic grain/hay
farmers and others with unused land available were confident
of a reliable organic hay market in the northeast, no doubt
more organic hay would be produced here.”