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Young entrepreneur finds markets for hay

By Jennifer M. Latzke

It was supposed to only be a side business, just 10 acres of brome for hay production.

Little did Phillip Goodyear, or his family for that matter, realize that one simple project would evolve into a thriving farm enterprise.

In the beginning

The Goodyear family members are long-time swine producers in Geary County, Kan. But, Phillip Goodyear decided as a young man that raising pigs wasn't in his future.

"Pigs were not my route," he said. "So I dabbled in hay production, starting out with 10 acres in brome." When Goodyear moved on to Kansas State University he chose to major in business economics, with the intention of returning home to farm and expanding that small hay operation.

Today, Goodyear and his wife, Kristen, with their one-year-old son Ethan, operate Cross Triangle Hay Co., east of Junction City, Kan. They grew their farm from 10 acres in 2000 to about 2,000 acres covering an 80-mile radius today. The couple puts up brome, alfalfa and some prairie hay in small and large square bales and large round bales and sells their crop to dairies and horse stables across the country.

"About 90 percent of our production is in small square bales," Goodyear said. Small squares are marketed to horse owners on the East Coast, while large 3x4 square bales are produced for dairies in Michigan. Any hay that isn't marketable quality is put up in large round bales for their own cowherd.

"We ship everything. Very little is sold locally," Goodyear said.

Goodyear started his interstate hay business with one contact at a stable on the East Coast, and has steadily grown his clientele list through word-of-mouth and Internet marketing.

"Our buyers would take their hay to horse shows and people would admire the hay and they'd tell their friends where to go and find it," he said. Horse owners on the East Coast prefer brome, while those in Texas and Oklahoma prefer more alfalfa, he added.

Dairies, however, prefer Goodyear's prairie hay in large square bales to feed during calving, he explained. "It's a low potassium source and it is ideal for maintaining a cowherd," he said.

The demand started outstripping Goodyear's own supply, and so he began brokering hay to fill the gaps. He finds local growers with hay for sale, arranges trucking and pays them for their hay as their loaded truck crosses the scales in Junction City. He usually sticks within 100 miles of home for his brokering business, connecting with suppliers over the Internet.

As with any farming enterprise, there are business risks to hay production. For example, all alfalfa hay that Goodyear markets to horses only comes from the first and last cuttings of the year. This is to reduce the threat of blister beetles, which can be fatal to horses. "We carry a large liability policy, as well, and we let our customers know all the risks," Goodyear said.

Managing inputs

Managing labor and equipment as well as the liability risks is another key to Goodyear's success. Whether that's handling small square bales as little as possible, or using outside trucking firms, Goodyear keeps a close watch on his labor expenditures for a healthy bottom line.

"Each summer, I hire three to four college students, but we're as automated as possible," he said. For example, in loading a 600-bale load of small squares, only the last 60 or so have to be moved by hand, and it only takes his crew about an hour or so, he said.

All of his interstate shipping is hired out, Goodyear explained, to reduce his management liabilities. "We use two local companies, Irish Express and Dibben Land & Cattle Co.," he said. What little intrastate hauling he does is handled with his own two semis.

For convenience, Goodyear keeps all of his hay in four barns scattered around his holdings. By not tarping hay in the field, and instead shipping it out of the field directly or storing it in permanent structures, he can control the amount of time spent in the field. "We like to have a continuous cycle of hay," he said. "We ship out year-round, sending out about 100 or more loads each year."

Goodyear started out by borrowing hay equipment from his father and from neighbors. Today, with help from Farm Credit, he owns his own equipment and even does a little custom work for neighbors--a little less than 100 acres a year--when he's not busy with his own hay ground.

Growing an enterprise

The region around Goodyear, on the western edge of the Flint Hills, is ideal for hay production--a combination of fertile river bottom ground and prairie land. When he's evaluating potential hay acres, he first checks the quality of soil. "Brome is usually a great fit," Goodyear said. "We can market it well and it grows on even poor quality soils."

He likes to use hill ground for brome and river bottom ground for alfalfa. Goodyear also looks at the previous crops grown on the land. He says alfalfa after wheat is a good fit for their area.

For anyone looking to begin a haying operation, Goodyear advises they be aggressive and they shouldn't be afraid to spread out their operation over long distances. Finding land to lease is difficult anymore, and some landowners may be skeptical about hay production rather than row crop production. Therefore, Goodyear prefers to cash rent his hay ground, rather than lease it for a share of the crop. This lets him have flexibility in his production.

Goodyear isn't afraid of traveling an hour or so to a field, either. Currently, he has hay ground spread out in an 80-mile radius from his farm, which makes for long days of moving equipment and arranging shipping schedules. However, that's just the price of business anymore, he said.

Technology can ease some of that headache. Never opposed to new ideas, Goodyear has embraced the Internet as a marketing tool for his hay. He also uses a Blackberry to buy and sell hay via text messaging. "I can sell hay, from my tractor, while baling more hay, all with a text," he said.

Branching out

Another part of the Goodyears' farming enterprise is a commercial herd of 150 Simmental and black Angus cows. They are beginning a small-scale natural beef operation, tying into a consumer demand for "natural" beef.

"We think we should give consumers what they want," Goodyear said. "We aren't opposed to conventional beef production, by any means. We just see a trend from consumers to avoid beef raised with antibiotics and hormones, and we think we can fill a niche."

The Goodyears will raise their herd in compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for natural production. He said they will vaccinate their calves for blackleg and IBR, though, for herd health purposes.

To ensure a steady supply of beef, the Goodyears will calve half of their herd in the spring and the other half in the fall. They'll also use artificial insemination on their cows, selecting for maternal characteristics and using proven carcass sires, Goodyear said.

The couple is building a 300-head feedlot at their farmstead so they can finish their own cattle on corn.

"We ship our cattle out to feedlots to finish out now," Goodyear said. "But we want to go to a natural program, and this would allow us to ensure the authenticity of the program. We can raise them on our own feed." That will include some of the Goodyear hay, of course.

For now, though, Phillip and Kristen Goodyear are looking forward to a bright future raising their young family on their little spot along Humboldt Creek in Geary County.

Who knows where the next generation's business project might take them?

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.

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