By Ian Cumming
GLEN ROBERTSON — Hay is a valuable commodity these days.
Price varies but you can still get a 50-lb. small square bale for about $5. That’s about $200 per tonne.
But hay is value added by $80 a tonne in clamouring world-wide markets when it’s processed through a “hard press,” turning a large big square bale into multiple short 65-pound bales, at Andre Larocque’s farm in North Glengarry, east of Alexandria at the Quebec border.
Piled onto pallets, the bales are ready to be loaded into a 26-tonne ship container for overseas — with a shipping cost of $2,000 to $5,000 per container depending on the destination.
Or his hay is loaded into a “dry box” transport to be trucked anywhere in North America. Larocque’s largest hay customers are in Quebec and Florida, he said.
While China is a tremendous market, “they are saturated right now from every country with surplus hay in the world,” said Larocque.
There are so few hard or soft presses on Ontario and Quebec farms that Larocque said he can count them on one hand.
The big bale is placed in the side of the cutting unit, which then slices the bale in half, lengthways. Then the half bale is flipped up onto a counter and moved onto a slow conveyor into the press.
His hard press unit, installed just a few years ago, “paid for itself by creating markets,” said Larocque.
However, about $60 of that $80 premium for hard-pressed hay is tied in farm operating and overhead costs, noted Larocque.
Putting about 4,500 tonnes through the unit per year — 3,000 tonnes home grown while the other 1,500 tonnes are bought from five provinces— the Hydro costs for running this unit are $5,000 per month. “It takes 350 hp in motors to run this,” he said.
Add in costs for workers, skid loaders, plastic and the debt servicing for the unit and building, and you get the $60 a tonne in costs, Larocque said.
The hay crop volume on his Glengarry farm, “was half this year with the drought,” said Larocque. “I’m going to be buying a lot more than usual.”
Western Canada is having a good 2016 hay crop, with plenty of rain, he said.
Hay is half of his 1,300 acres of land, said Larocque, who grows the traditional corn and beans on the other half of his acres.
Larocque grew up a dairy farmer buying, with his brother, the 200-acre dairy farm with 32-kilos of quota from their parents in 1989. He bought out his brother in 2002 and sold the cows and quota later that same year, recalled Larocque.
While the herd had the fourth highest production average in Glengarry, “My interest was more in the fields,” he said. “Plus it was too much alone.”
Making and selling hay wasn’t anything new, since when he was a boy, his father had always bought extra fields of standing hay and made the crop to sell, said Larocque. They also had the first big square balers in the area, doing custom work at one time with four units, he recalled.
“Now we hardly do any custom work,” said Larocque. “Everybody has a big baler.”
The Ontario Forage Council’s goal of building a large hay compaction unit, with farmers potentially buying shares and long-term contracting hay for sale, will be a benefit for the industry, Larocque predicted.
“But they are going to have to do it right,” he said.