SHREVE, Ohio — When he was a teenager, Josh Moorefield needed a type of farming he could afford and that would be profitable year-round.
His father’s farm consisted about 60 acres — not enough for a full-time operation. And the cost of starting a farm from scratch was not practical — so he got into the hay business.
“It took a lot less cash to raise hay,” he said. “It was a lot more labor intensive.”
Moorefield, now 34, started growing and baling hay on just a few hundred acres — usually using the landowner’s equipment — in exchange for a share of the hay.
Today he’s almost exclusively in the hay business — growing and harvesting around 1,000 acres of forages — along with another 400 acres of soybeans and corn.
Moorefield prefers hay to grain farming because he feels it gives him more control over his market — where he sells and when.
“With grain, you can play the markets all you want but somebody else is telling you what your product is worth,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to run a business that way. With hay, there’s a lot more room for increasing your profit with marketing.”
He grows mixed hay — including alfalfa and orchard grass, with some timothy — and he also has stands of pure orchardgrass. Late spring and summer are his busiest seasons — and he bales everything with a non-kicker style small square baler, and a large square baler.
Most of the hay equipment is New Holland and Krone, pulled by a collection of White tractors and a JCB Fastrac tractor, capable of road speeds up to 45 mph.
Moorefield employs one full-time worker, Josh Hershberger, and they farm mostly rented ground in Wayne, Holmes and Medina counties. In the evenings, five or so part-time helpers show up to help haul hay from the fields to the barns.
Hay that’s stored outside is plastic wrapped and about two-thirds is kept until winter. When making small square bales, he uses a non-kick baler — pulling an accumulator, which accumulates up to 15 bales before depositing them in small stacks across the field.
Moorefield and his workers then use a front-end loader to load the bales onto the wagon or trailer they’re using to haul to the barns. As much as possible, they try to store the hay inside pole barns — as opposed to old hay lofts. The pole barns are easier to stack and remove hay from — and usually less hot and dusty.
“When I was 19, I loved throwing small square bales,” he said. “I hate it now.”
The farm makes about 100,000 small square bales a year and 5,000 large square bales.
Although hay is a staple feedsource on most livestock farms — each farm also has a need for a different type of hay — depending on the animals raised and the owner’s philosophy. That’s why Moorefield tries to grow different combinations, to meet each customer’s needs.
His biggest customers are in Miami, Fla. — where much of the hay is sent by rail — and he also trucks it to farmers and markets throughout Ohio.
Joe Stearns of Southwest Ranches — just outside Fort Lauderdale — buys about 8,500 small square bales a year for his feed store, S. Lightning Feed and Tack. He buys an average of one truckload — about 650 bales — a month.
“(Josh) deals with me honestly and fairly and I feel like he’s a hard-working guy and his hay is consistently good,” Stearns said. It’s been a normal, mutually beneficial relationship between a farmer and a feed store.”
“He’s a dedicated farmer,” added Patricia Diss, of Quatre Saisons Equine Center in Massillon. “He grows according to the needs of the people.”
Moorefield said he’s noticing a trend on dairy farms — where dairymen still want a lot of alfalfa content — but also more grasses — which help add more fiber to the ration. Horse farms, in general, want a grassier hay.
He manages the hay from the time it’s planted and usually applies fertilizer after each cutting. Unlike other crops, hay — especially alfalfa — is considered a three- to five-year crop, growing back each year.
This spring has been a little special for Moorefield Farms — partly because of the early spring, which helped the first-cutting mature about three weeks ahead of last year, and also because of a new plant growth promoter called RyzUp.
Moorefield applied RyzUp in late March, along with his first fertilizer application — and says his first cutting is yielding twice as much hay as usual.
“I’m seeing literally a 50 percent increase in first-cutting yields,” he said. “I like it, it’s a completely organic product you put it on the same pass you fertilize.”
The product is sold by the ag chemical company Valent U.S.A.
High yields and quality hay are more important than ever. When he started raising hay, Moorefield said it cost about $200 an acre. Today, it’s closer to $600.
Of course, the market for hay has gone up, but so have the inputs.
He said he enjoys grain farming, as well, but hay helps him meet and interact with more customers — especially when he’s delivering it himself.
“You know your customer, you have a customer relationship,” he said. “Whereas grain, you haul it to the elevator and it’s gone and you never see it again, and you don’t see the end result.”
A way to farm
As Moorefield sees it, growing hay not only got him started with farming — it’s also what kept him farming.
“When I started raising hay that was the only way I could get started (in farming), but in hindsight that’s what saved us, because there’s still a lot of good landlords and investors out there that don’t want their farm no-tilled to corn and beans year after year,” he said.
“In the end that’s what has kept me in business — the farmers who want their ground taken care of.”
For more about the farm or to contact the owner, click here.
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