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
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 www.organicmilk.org
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 loads.
“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 feed-cost advantages.
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
“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
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,”
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
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
“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.”