When it Comes to Organic or Natural Hay – What’s in a Name?
Natural hay is becoming more popular than ever. And while calling hay natural as opposed to organic – and vice versa – may seem trivial, the USDA doesn’t see it that way.
According to the USDA, organic hay is required to meet the standards set by the USDA National Organic Program. These standards include using a longer crop rotation than their regular counterparts, no pesticides or synthetic chemicals added to the soil when harvesting and fertilizing only with manure.
Natural hay does not have as stringent of guidelines as organic but it does have its own set of standards set forth by non-government organizations. These organizations examine what is labeled as naturally grown hay to ensure that it reaches certain quality standards.
Natural hay is expected to be grown through the use of particular methods. Therefore, if farmers want to cultivate natural hay there are some standards they will need to adhere to. For example, natural hay is produced without certain types of fertilizers and pesticides. This can significantly impact overall yields. While alternatives can be used these are not as effective as traditional fertilizers and pesticides.
The naturally grown hay market can be volatile which makes demand for this type of hay unpredictable. Further, when demand goes up, natural hay production methods do not always allow a producer to meet those demands. In some cases, it may be tough to just break even.
Naturally grown hay is also extremely dependent on the quality of the soil and poor soil quality can prove exceptionally detrimental. Therefore, the decision to grow natural hay will require a commitment to soil monitoring, as well.
While there are drawbacks to naturally grown hay, there are benefits, as well. Naturally grown hay sells for a much higher price than regular hay. This helps to offset lower yields, a greater time commitment and a larger investment. The demand for naturally grown hay also continues to rise.
Naturally growing hay is popular but also unpredictable and expensive. It is important, then, for individual producers to decide if naturally grown hay makes sense for their particular operation. This decision can only be made by analyzing the market and other individual factors which include:
The demand for naturally grown hay in your area;
Access to adequate, affordable nutrient inputs; and
Access to an adequate land base that will allow soil-building rotational crops to enhance hay production.