There is the old joke about the farmer who won the lottery and when asked by the local paper what he planned to do, he replied: “I guess I’ll just keep farming until it’s gone.” For those who have tried to make their living off of a farm that joke rings true. But for many others who take the time to study the markets, determine which new technologies could improve their profits and begin with a good business plan, farming has become a winning situation in and of itself.
Take for example the number of people with acreage who have found a market for high-quality hay. Horse owners, racetracks and even those raising goats, sheep, calves and other livestock often don’t have the ground to grow their own feed and, therefore, look to others to provide it.
For those who care about their animals, either out of love or plans for profit, acquiring high-quality feed at a reasonable price is a necessity. In Kentucky high quality hay often means a good mix of alfalfa and a filler such as orchard grass.
Alfalfa is a legume. It is high in protein, so a filler hay such as orchard grass or timothy is often grown along with the alfalfa in order to balance out the feed. Eating pure alfalfa would be like a steady steak diet without any salad or vegetables.
In years past growing hay was a labor-intensive undertaking. You had to plant it, fertilize it ,cut it rake it, bale it, load it and then hoist it into a barn – all during the hot weather from the back of an exposed seat tractor in the dustiest of conditions.
Today, however, with the price of a single bale of hay usually north of $4.50, and in good years after the first, production of about 200 bales per acre you can easily see how a few good fields could earn you a nice chunk of change every year. And because technology has made production much more comfortable and less labor intensive, profit margins are growing.
A number of farms around Kentucky that used to produce tobacco still have good tillable acreage and pretty solid barns. They are perfectly situated to producing high-quality hay.
And today, tractors have air-conditioned cabs and the hay-making equipment is highly specialized. Instead of an old rusty square baler rumbling along dropping bales every so many feet in a row, now there are carts that follow the balers, organize the bales into compact groups, which can then be lifted by front-end forks as a single unit and loaded onto trailers for transport to the barn. There the same front-end forks can move the hay into solid stacks for curing and storage, then be used to load the hay onto customer’s trailers or your own for shipping.
You might say that the gross income doesn’t look all that promising when you factor in the cost of the farm, the equipment, the fuel and the other machinery needed, but think again. It is a business. It requires capitalization. And it would probably require that you do something else other than wait for the next cutting to earn your living. But, it isn’t difficult to see how a young person could calculate the capital costs and then apply the profit to expunging that debt in short order, after which the hay production would be pure profit.
In today’s world so many young people want material things that they believe will give them a nice lifestyle. They see a fat paycheck as their only path to their goals. Making a business plan and taking risks is not on their radar screen. But it should be.
As more and more people become dependent on others for their support, we by our own inaction are allowing America to become less entrepreneurial, less self-reliant and less innovative. In other words, we are letting the very things that used to define us fade away, only to be replaced by a society primed and ready to accept the very kind of tyranny and class systems which existed in England before we began our American experiment.
I’m not suggesting that college graduates need to start a hay farm. But I am suggesting that with the current low cost of land and the availability of using modern technology to reduce the need for outside labor, with poor job prospects in other sectors, and while American self-reliance is still part of the fabric of this nation, now might be a good time for the next generation to consider starting their own business. Hay farming is just one gloriously green possibility.
It is often said that there is no time like the present to start a new way of thinking. If more young people would stop looking down and begin looking up they might just notice that there is a sun shining down on them today in an America, where building your own business is still an achievable goal. And as they say, you’ve gotta make hay when the sun shines.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.