POCATELLO — Aside from California, Idaho is the largest producer of alfalfa hay in the nation and with a new joint-venture between Driscoll TopHay and Canada-based TopHay Agra-Industries, about 110,000 metric tons of hay per year will soon be traveling overseas to places in China, Japan, Korea and the Middle East.
On Friday, Driscoll TopHay showcased its new Hunterwood hay press located near the Pocatello Airport that uses three 250 horsepower engines to drive hydraulic rams into the typical 1,800-pound hay bales to transform them into much smaller, compacted bales for shipping.
“Japan and Korea have been taking hay for two decades and they’ve remained relatively flat,” said Jason Hawkins, Driscoll TopHay general manager. “They’ve taken as much as they’ve taken, the markets are mature and they know how much they want every year.”
However, China just started taking hay in 2006, Hawkins said, and now they take more than anybody in the world.
“Even when the market was depressed China continued to grow,” Hawkins added. “What’s happening is their income is rising and as it rises they can afford to spend more for food.”
The containers used to ship the hay can go on trucks, trains and boats and are loaded directly at the press located near Pocatello. Hawkins said the ideal target is to have eight trucks travelling to Salt Lake City twice a day. From there, trains will transport the containers to shipping locations in Long Beach and Oakland California and possibly Seattle to be loaded onto freighter ships.
“There are nine ports in China that we service and it’s all a transportation game,” Hawkins said. “To send a container overseas it costs what it costs no matter how much weight is in there. These containers come from China with our clothes and iPhones and all that stuff and they need these containers back. And, we don’t want to send them empty, so we can put alfalfa in them.”
Though the profit margins for Driscoll TopHay are rather marginal, according to Hawkins, the economic benefit for Idaho hay farmers is much better than traditional methods.
“The cost of transportation is higher than the cost of hay,” Hawkins said. “But when they feed it to their animals they see the production and it works. We expect that market to continue to grow, as long as Trump doesn’t mess it…