The Noble Research Institute soil and forage processing group stays busy throughout the year with both research and producer samples. However, once hay season begins forage testing for producers increases greatly.
Whether you are buying, selling or just producing hay for personal use, testing is an invaluable tool. Forage testing is also a large part of another tool that seems to be becoming a thing of the past: the local hay show.
In past years, it was common for the hay contest to be a large event in county and state fairs. However, in recent years, entries have slowly dwindled and many counties no longer hold hay competitions. Even at the Oklahoma State Fair, the only hay competition is for alfalfa hay.
To a producer, entering hay contests has several advantages, especially if you are selling your hay. By entering the local competitions, you can see how your hay compares to other area producers and what you could improve on. This can also be used as a great selling point to your potential customers when you list your winning entries at local, state or even national competitions. Nevertheless, other producers and prospective customers who attend the contest(s) will view your entries for themselves and reference that as a reason to contact you for purchasing your product.
Although there are great advantages to hay shows, there seems to be some strong factors leading to a decline in local competitions.
Many county extension offices are feeling the effects of state budget cuts. Offices have lost key staff members and some offices have closed completely, which has led to fewer people doing more work. Priorities have shifted to key programs. When I was growing up as a 4-H and FFA member in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, hay shows and hay-judging competitions were key activities and often had large turnouts. But with these competitions came a lot of hard work and dedication to coordinate events, find sponsorships and contact potential contestants. Now with the staff shortage, program focus has shifted to areas of larger awareness such as livestock shows.
Some local hay shows also require producers to donate the bales they enter. Producers may want to pick out some of their best bales for the competition, but they may not want to pay an entry fee and not get those prime bales back.
Although local competitions have declined, regional contests such as the Southeastern Hay Contest in Athens, Georgia, seem to be gaining interest. Last year, the Southeastern Hay Contest had more than 300 entries.
I wonder if the reason for this particular competition’s great participation is due to the fact that it does not require an entire lot of display bales. Results are entirely based on laboratory sample analysis and only a grab sample is required for display and to use in tie-breaker situations.
Possibly producers feel that entering a larger competition is more worthwhile that entering a local competition. Or maybe they simply enter regionally because they do not have contests in their local area.
Here at the Noble Research Institute, we are proud to offer forage testing to support hay shows in any county. In 1999, we tested forage samples from 20 counties. Throughout the years, this number has dwindled. Last year we received hay show entries from only four counties in our area.
The hay show seems to be fading away, however if enough producers show interest in bringing back these contests then maybe we can help make them popular once more. I encourage anyone interested to talk to their local county extension agents or even to other producers to generate interest in banding together and sponsoring more local contests. Producers could also help sponsor local hay judging competitions for 4-H and FFA to help educate the next generation on the importance of good forage.
With all of the modernizations in hay production and the increase in technology to produce superior hay, there should be a way to tie in an important tradition of the past with today’s modern agricultural lifestyle. But the change has to start with the support and encouragement of you, the producer.