In Iowa hay and forage crops were grown on just over one million acres last year, but those acreage numbers don't show how widespread the hay and forage industry is in this state.
Iowa is well known for its corn and soybeans, but you may be surprised to learn that hay and forage crops, like alfalfa, aren't so different. Region Manager for Vermeer Forage Morgan Lambert says hay can be temperamental, just like corn.
"You've got to have very much a different soil type to grow alfalfa, just like with corn; you're going to have a better corn crop a lot of times when you have more of a loamy, or light, soil."
But then again, hay and forage crops can be a little different; for one thing, they don't have a futures market. Instead, selling them is just a Google search away.
Lambert says, "I still think a lot of that advertising is done via the Internet. I mean, social media has really continued to evolve our marketplace, and expand it.
But there's another way these two kinds of crops intersect, corn prices are lower now, but there's more of a push on conservation measures on producers lands. Forage crops might be one way to wed the two ideas.
Conservation efforts are just one way that traditional hay and forage methods are arriving on row crop farms. In some parts of the state there's also a need to pick up corn stover after harvest, to be used as biomass for cellulosic ethanol production. And some equipment manufacturers say they've seen interest in machinery for other reasons.
Case IH Territory Sales Manager in Iowa Brett DeVries says farmers are doing their best to maximize their returns.
He says, "One thing we're really seeing is guys using residue off of, say, a corn crop: baling it up, using that corn stover, grinding it in the rations. We're seeing more forage crops, where guys are taking the forage off and then planting corn and soybeans, so it seems like they're really using hay equipment, and really using everything they can off of the land."