by Danielle Beard
Parsons, Kansas —
When it comes to county fairs most think of carnival rides, 4-H exhibits and livestock shows, but when it comes to the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, Missouri, it’s a different type of show people are talking about.
For the past 27 years the hay show of the Ozark Empire Fair has been making a name for itself.
“I thought we have cattle shows, pig shows and all these other shows, why not do something with hay,” Eldon Cole, Extension professional and livestock specialist for Lawrence Co. and southwest region says.
Beginning in July of 1985 in Springfield, Mo., the Ozark Empire Hay Show was the first of its kind for the state.
“We wanted to give recognition to the people who raise good quality hay,” Cole said.
According to Cole the state must have thought it was a good idea because the following year the Missouri State Fair hosted their first hay show.
“We’ve always had a feeling in our Missouri minds that hay has to cross the state line to be any good,” Cole says. “So that was another method in our madness—to impress upon people that we do raise good hay.”
Cole says one of the objectives was to help producers market hay by free advertising of their hay through the show.
Another objective outlined in creating a hay show was to show people the value of forage and hay testing instead of buying it based solely on how it looks or smells.
One year while setting out blue and green ribbons on the hay Cole says he noticed two men looking at the display, then one man turned to the other and said “Well I thought hay was hay.”
Cole says he feels this is what a lot of people believe and that he thinks it’s important to educate them to understand relative feed value (RFV) and hay analysis testing so the producer will learn how to achieve higher quality hay and the buyer will know what to look for when purchasing.
Contestants are judged 60 percent on the hay analysis results that come back from Custom Laboratory, Inc., in Golden City, Mo. From the hay analysis results the RFV—based on Acid Detergent Fiber and Neutral Detergent Fiber levels—is closely looked at.
The other 40 percent is the sensory analysis which is determined by judges chosen by Extension. Sensory analysis includes: color, condition, smell and purity.
Revised Hay Quality Designations, as according to the 2011 Ozark Empire Fair Hay Show guidebook includes:
•Supreme–Very early maturity, pre-bloom, soft fine stemmed, extra leafy. Factors indicative of very high nutritive content. Hay is excellent color and free of damage.
•Premium–Early maturity, i.e., pre-bloom in legumes and pre-head in grass hays, extra leafy and fine stemmed factors indicative of high nutritive content. Hay is green and free of damage.
•Good–Early to average maturity, i.e., early to mid-bloom in legumes and early head in grass hays, leafy. Fine to medium stemmed, free of damage other than slight discoloration.
•Fair–Late maturity, i.e., mid to late-bloom in legumes, head in grass hays, moderate or below leaf content and generally coarse stemmed. Hay may show light damage.
•Utility–Hay in very late maturity, such as mature seedpods in legumes or mature head in grass hays, coarse stemmed. This category could include hay discounted due to excessive damage and heavy weed content or mold. Defects will be identified in market reports when using this category.
To achieve supreme quality hay, repeat farm show winner, Glenn Obermann a producer from Monett, Mo., said you have to consider the fertility of the soil, keep weeds under control and prevent insects from damaging your hay crop.
Obermann who has been actively farming since he was 14, grows alfalfa and alfalfa/orchard grass mixture hay to sell.
“If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it right,” Obermann says.
No-till and crop rotation are two methods he uses to improve soil fertility and increase crop output, as for the care of the plant, Obermann says you’ve got to fertilize. He also carefully watches his crops to make sure insects don’t overtake them.
“The five main insects you’ve got to watch out for are: alfalfa weevils, leaf hoppers, grass hoppers, army worms and blister beetles,” he says.
For the most part Obermann sprays his fields himself for insects. He believes by doing it himself he is able to put more time and care into his fields.
Obermann sells the majority of his hay crop to horse owners.
“Ninety percent of my hay crop is sold for race horses and show horses,” he says. “The kind of hay I raise horse people love it, it’s got to be clean, pure, and it has to be all small square bales.”
Because of the type of hay he sells, Obermann has had to increase his marketing efforts in order to help reach customers.
“You have to change to be successful,” he says. “You have to change the way you think.”
He says his success over the years has helped him do just that. Customers will look at the hay show results and call to buy hay solely off of first or second place winners.
To Obermann the hay show is not just about winning and increasing his business, he also enjoys the opportunity to look at other hay and talk to other producers.
“It’s interesting and fun,” he concludes. “Shows people we can grow good hay here.”
The 2012 Ozark Empire Fair will be held July 27 to August 4.£