SWEDONA, Ill. — While the heydays of harvest are just around the corner, one golden crop is looking greener than ever for area farmers. Droughts across the great plains are bumping up prices for alfalfa, or hay, leading to record profits.
Alfalfa isn't typically seen as a cash crop around the QCA. Most farmers that grow the product use it to feed their own livestock. But things are different over at Keith Kindelsperger's farm.
He's got about 60 acres dedicated to alfalfa. Every year, he bales the hay into square-shaped, 60-pound bales. It's different from what most of his peers produce, but having a niche is exactly what he wants.
"I sell anywhere from Muscatine to Galesburg to the Geneseo area," Kindelsperger said.
His bales go for anywhere from $4-7 each, and right now, they're flying out of his barn faster than ever. He estimates about 90% of his hay goes to feed local horses.
"This particular area, people want the small, square bales and there aren't very many of us doing that anymore," Kindelsperger said. "So I think there's a huge possibility for young people if they want to get into farming. That's an avenue that they can take."
Widespread droughts across many of the main alfalfa-producing states have driven up the prices. According to the USDA, the average price for hay jumped up roughly $70 per ton higher than at this point last year.
It means that a less-than-ideal growing season isn't slowing down Kindelsperger's sales.
Typically, he likes to see 75-80% of his hay crop be classified as 'really good.' But infrequent weather, combined with a wet harvest week, kept his yields to only 50-60% 'really good.'
"It's tough, you know, it's a risky business," Kindelsperger said. "But it's rewarding when you get that really nice alfalfa, you put it in the shed, it smells really great and you're taking care of your customers and giving them what they want."
It's also why he says alfalfa is an excellent opportunity for any younger farmers.
"I think there's a lot of opportunity out there in the small squares," Kindelsperger noted. "Everybody's doing corn and beans. So hopefully we'll get a couple of young guys around here that'll grow the small bales and provide for the people who need those."
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