Those big bales of hay dotting the landscape these days could be making their way overseas in coming years through the efforts of the Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative.
The OHFC is in the process of completing a feasibility study to decide if creating a double-compacting hay facility in southern Ontario is a financially sound idea.
With that in mind, they’re holding a “What’s the Buzz About Hay Dryers?” event next weekend at Scott and Darlene Martin’s farm in St. Jacobs to discuss the co-op’s progress since its founding, encourage new members to join, and invite industry people who are interested in the forage industry to show their wares and machinery.
“It was formed with the purpose of exporting double compacted hay to overseas markets in containers,” explained OHFC chair Fritz Trauttmansdorff.
“What we decided is we need to do a feasibility study and do a marketing plan and a business plan to get that done. The first thing they did, we recruited members, formed a board of directors, and then started working on getting money for a feasibility study,” he said.
He expects the feasibility study will be completed in the near future and then they’ll have to start on the business plan. They’re hoping to make good progress this fall and winter and have concrete answers by next spring on the future of the project.
“The idea to do a double-compaction facility in Ontario is not new, it has been around for 20 years. But there was never the right conditions for it to do it mostly because of logistics, like shipping costs,” he said.
He says two changes have happened over the past couple years that will even out the playing field for farmers in Ontario.
“That is the widening of the Panama Canal and of the Suez Canal, to allow for full-size container ships to come to the East Coast ports. Now we can competitively ship hay into Asia or into the Persian Gulf region, basically for the same money as everybody else. Before that we were always at a big logistic disadvantage,” he said.
The second piece of the puzzle is good usable dryers for big square bales are becoming available, which will take much of the risk out of making hay. He says they will be able to take hay off the fields in about 48 hours, rather than four days. This helps reduce or even eliminate the weather risk.
“Those two things together have changed the outlook for us to get serious and see what we can do in this market,” he said.
The first draft of the feasibility study is done and they’ve done some marketing work. They also travelled to China on a trade mission and did some technical work to figure out how to run the co-op and a double compaction press.
At the event in St. Jacobs next Friday they’ll report on the progress of hay dryers and explain how they work. They’re a big part of drying the hay artificially as it comes off the fields, to always have good quality hay.
“We would like to see hay grown as a major cash crop, just as wheat and soy beans. It would be much better for the fields. It gives them another market outlet for a crop they can grow and it will ergonomically benefit their farms quite substantially to have hay in their rotation,” he said.
He explains there are numerous benefits for those who choose to join the co-op. They’ll help the co-op finish the feasibility study and do the business plan. And when they issue contracts to supply the co-op with hay the members will be first in line.
“It’s a great opportunity to get serious about making hay and make it a predictable crop and help us build access to worldwide markets. It is the first time that those markets are actually accessible to Ontario farmers in a way that’s sustainable,” he said.
He says a lot of people want to see a good market for hay because one of the big problems in Ontario is there aren’t enough forages in the farmers’ rotations. They’re also starting to lose top soil and soil quality. He maintains putting hay into the rotation will help alleviate some issues for cash crop farmers.
As of now they’re thinking of building the facility in the Kitchener or Guelph area, along the 401 corridor to make it reasonably accessible to as many farmers as possible, and also close enough to the container yards in Brampton.
“It is a unique opportunity to get into the world markets for hay on a large scale and just build another outlet for a good Ontario crop that should be growing here,” he said.
The Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative’s “What’s the Buzz About Hay Dryers?” is being hosted by Scott and Darlene Martin on Aug. 12 at their farm, Marhaven Agri on 161 Hawkesville Rd. in St. Jacobs. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will feature an update on the co-op, along with demonstrations and a trade show.