Gustads team up to produce top hay
Consistently reliable products, excellent customer service and a team approach to baling are three keys that have helped the Gustad family, of Volin, S.D., succeed in the hay business.
“Weather is probably our biggest challenge,” says Paul Gustad, who farms with his father, Bud, and brother, Dean. “With all this year’s rain, we found out what it’s like to put up hay in Iowa!”
Between their own land and the custom work they do, they put up about 1,600 acres of hay. They cut, rake and bale nearly every day. Everybody helps get the work done. “Grandkids too,” Bud says. “They help with stacking, getting a feel for the tractor and how to stack bales. They’re our future.”
About three-quarters of their crop usually goes to dairies. The horse market sometimes accounts for as much as 30% of their annual sales. “It depends on how much hay we put up and how much is premium hay,” Paul says. “Some years only 10% of the small squares go to equine markets in Florida, Texas and Omaha.”
• Consistent quality helps Gustads succeed with hay.
• Family works together to bale 1,600 acres annually.
• Gustads emphasize customer service and fair pricing.
The Gustads sell lower-quality hay to local hay mills and feed it to their stock cows.
They also try to minimize storage losses. “We put our old, worn-out tarps under shedded hay to keep the bottom row from spoiling,” Paul says. “Squares store easily and haul easier too. We’re careful to stack anything with moisture on the outer edge of the shed so we can get to it quickly. If the hay is really wet we sometimes stack it outside and tarp it.”
Other practices the Gustads follow:
• They require cash or money orders from new customers and monitor collections carefully. They maintain a record of customers to ensure they “never lose a customer.”
• They grow hay on gently rolling fields. “That can be an advantage with ice. We don’t have winterkill problems you see in flatter fields,” Bud says.
• They hire professionals to monitor disease and insect issues on their hay ground so they can concentrate on producing top-quality hay and offer top-notch service. “Dissatisfied customers tell everybody,” Paul says. “If they’re happy, they talk about that, too. Word of mouth is a big part of our business, and our system has worked well all these years.”
• They’ve replaced corn in their rotation with wheat. “We often zeroed out on the corn [due to dry summer weather],” Paul says. But the past three years, their wheat has averaged 70 bushels per acre.
• They work with dairy producers to help them buy high-quality hay, even when milk prices are low. “We try to arrive at a price fair for both sides,” Paul says. “Some years producers pay higher prices when supplies aren’t as good. Sometimes you let a customer go, but we want to keep those dairy customers when [market] cycles change.”
Sorenson writes from Yankton, S.D.
This article published in the June, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.