FFA project turns into big business for hay grower
By STEVE BROWN
ARLINGTON, Wash. -- There's a difference between making hay and making a living, but 28-year-old Andrew Albert is doing both.
In a county with a long tradition of dairies and horses, Albert sells all he can grow by turning out high-quality hay and marketing directly to his customers. During the busy part of summer, he hires on a half-dozen part-time workers to supplement his three year-round, full-time employees.
At 800 acres -- and he's always looking to expand -- he grows a lot of hay, and timing is critical in more ways than one.
He can take advantage of the 16-hour summer days, but Puget Sound's climate often leaves him with small weather windows, requiring big equipment and all hands ready to move.
He harvests at peak maturity for best nutrition.
"People want consistency in hay, and that's hard to do," he said. "I guarantee the product."
What started as an FFA project back in high school has become a science, as he rotates orchardgrass every five or six years, depending on soil and nutrition tests. After a year or two in corn or spinach, he goes back to hay.
"Younger grass produces better grass," he said. "Most people around here just have pastures and they mow once a year. But as the pasture grows older, the grass gets weaker and other grasses come up."
He gets three cuttings a year, following each with fertilizer and irrigation.
Once the hay is cut and baled, Albert sells direct -- "I've got a thousand names in my files" -- either from the field, from the barn or delivered. Some people want to save money by picking up their own bales; others want to save time by having it brought into their own barns.
"We keep three delivery trucks going in the summer," he said. "I'm the only guy in the area doing this, and there's nothing near this size."
Bill Roseburn, president of the Washington State Hay Growers Association, said he doesn't know of anyone else selling hay direct, though there might be a few. Most growers in his area around Moses Lake raise alfalfa for export to Japan and elsewhere.
"Orchardgrass goes to the feed store," he said.
According to the USDA Market News Service, Albert's prices are comparable to commodity prices in Washington and Oregon.
On a recent rainy day, Elaine Coalwell of Arlington stopped by to pick up a few bales. "I buy his hay because it's always excellent," she said. "My horses never leave any."
He also sells first-cutting big bales weighing 700 to 750 pounds, haylage and straw.
Albert's delivery range stretches well beyond the Snohomish County line, but most deliveries are within 20 miles. He has shipped as far as Alaska -- "We sent a container to a horse gal" -- and he has sent containers of straw to the Iditarod sled dog race in the 49th state.
The farm has diversified into working on other people's tractors, "to keep the workers busy year-round and to keep the steady workers here," he said.
Hometown: Arlington, Wash.
Family: Wife Melissa
Education: Everett Community College
Occupation: Hay farmer
Quote: "I was a 4.0 student in high school, but after one semester of college, I was too bored, so I quit that and started working. My wife is the exact opposite: She's a vet, a D.V.M., and went eight years."