Hay organizations could be found all across the Midwest 30 years ago, but only one remains in Iowa.
The Eastern Iowa Hay Producers Association have remained in operation through good and bad times, in large part through their partnerships.
“Many of the founding members were also on their local Soil Conservation Service boards, leading to the SCS being an integral part of the Eastern Iowa Hay Producers Association at the time of its establishment,” said Kevin Brown, current president of the EIHPA.
Although the earliest recorded minutes of the Eastern Iowa Hay Producers was in the summer of 1984, the formation of the group promoting hay and pasture production likely began back in 1983, Brown said.
According to information provided by Brown, one of the founding members, Bob Doerscher, helped kick start the idea as he drove past corn cribs in northern Scott County. Brown said many hay associations were being formed at that time throughout the Midwest, but most are no longer active.
At the time it was created, secretarial duties were rotated each year through Jackson, Jones, Clinton, Cedar and Scott counties, with meetings happening at the SCS office in Clinton County, which proved to be a good central location.
Now, the annual meeting is held on the third Thursday in March at Buzzy’s in Welton, where 35-50 members come to hear multiple speakers and handle administrative duties.
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The group started working with Iowa State University Extension specialists Virgil Schmitt and Denise Schwab, who were regular speakers at the meetings, That has boosted the attention to the meetings.
“They are both well-known to the membership and a big part of those presentations,” Brown said.
Outside of their annual meeting, the EIHPA organizes hay sales, working with various auctions around the region, including West Liberty and Dyersville.
Hay has become something of a specialty crop for some farmers, Brown said, as it can be labor intensive compared to corn and soybeans. Many hay producers are dairy or cow-calf producers, so they aren’t often marketing it and controlling their own cost and supply.
The hay yielding the highest prices and quality is marketed to horse owners, as many do not have the land or equipment to grow their own hay. Small, square bales for horses are also more difficult to produce, increasing the price.
Hay demand remains strong as acreage decreases in hay have led to smaller supply, and a drought in many areas this year may lead to a drag on yields. Many had to cut back on their normal amount of cuttings.
Brown said, like most farm groups, the median age has continued to rise for their organization, but younger members have been attending the meetings, and membership tends to stay around 65. With younger farmers joining, he hopes the Eastern Iowa Hay Producers will be around for another 40 years, at least.
“Hay and pasture production continues to be an important part of farming, alongside corn and soybeans,” he said.