Modern Hay Processing and Packaging Systems

During this session Ian MacDonald discussed compressed bales and hay processing from the viewpoint of a forage exporter. They discussed bringing hay into cash crop rotation and the environmental and agronomical benefits of this, as well as how to market hay.

Long term acreage forages have declined 42 per cent since the 60’s. This impacts the long term sustainability of our landscape. Soy and Corn leave four Million acres uncovered in Ontario over winter. Forage provides the coverage. Hay has agronomic benefits. It holds onto and increases soil organic matter (SOM) and improves the water holding capacity.

International markets flux a lot, whereas markets in the U.S. and Canada are more stable since movement is easier. The number of farms producing hay is decreasing, because fewer farms are growing horse bales. Even so, demand remains stable.

Forages are better than cover crops. They capture sunlight and retain water and protect the soil more, but need less tillage.

Production can be improved. Farmers should base their seed and variety choice, weed control and pest protection on their soil. They should make sure to cut to the proper height using a self-propelled machine at the right time and baled within 42 hours to improve production. Profitability can be on par with corn, soy, timothy, alfalfa and mixed hay.

A high-capacity dryer is needed. Without a dryer it takes four to five days to dry a cut, which is too risky. A haying system with 48hr off field then drying in a dryer is ideal to market collectively.

Current practices may be hurting the production capacity in the long term. Farmers should be more engaged in the market and pick their price based on the quality of their products. High quality hay is more profitable than cash-crop, and high quality hay takes extra management to be profitable. It costs $150 per year up front of seeding and fertilization. Add the value of hay. Well managed hay will produce the same tonnage as crop, but, due to higher storage and management costs, it is 1.3 times more valuable.

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