Opportunities To Brand “Ontario Hay” In Export Markets

With increased transportation costs and the slow US economy and their decling dollar, exporting hay to the US is becoming more challenging. There is a great deal of competition in this marketplace and pressure on prices.

However, we have a great product! Exporters are looking closely at increasing market opportunities to improve profitability. By developing an effective brand strategy, we can create a unique identity for “Ontario hay” that differentiates us from the competition and enables a premium price.
For example, branding opportunities exist for Ontario hay exported into the horse markets of Florida, Kentucky and other southern US States. Ontario hay has unique attributes that are desired by the equine market. By branding Ontario hay as having consistent quality that is superior to other hays available, exporters can broaden their customer base and add value to their product. Similarly, our competitor hay producers in irrigated areas of the American west have successfully branded “pure western alfalfa” as being high quality, sun-cured, quickly-dried hay that is green in colour with high protein and energy.

The following is an example of some of the attributes of Ontario hay that the US horse hay market desires that can be used in promotion and the development of a branding strategy. Similar attributes can be put together that appeal to other sectors, such as the dairy hay market.

Buy Ontario Horse Hay

For a consistent, quality hay product that is green, clean, soft, palatable, and free from dust and mould, buy Ontario horse hay. Hay producing areas of Ontario are unique in that they are located in a northerly climate and surounded by the Great Lakes. This provides a moderating micro-climate for soft, late maturing, low lignin grasses and fine-stemmed, soft alfalfa.

The northerly climate of Ontario is ideal for cool-season grasses, such as timothy, the most commonly grown grass grown for hay. Timothy prefers Ontario’s long days and cool nights, with adequate rainfall. This enables the plants to grow slower with less lignification, resulting in softer, finer hay. In fact, late-maturing timothy varieties do not “head” until early-June, enabling a wide harvest window.

In addition to straight timothy hay, Ontario commonly produces quality hay mixtures of alfalfa-timothy. Mixtures of alfalfa with late-maturing orchardgrass and bromegrass are also available. These cool-season grasses are very similar to timothy in nutrition and paltability. Because timothy, orchardgrass and bromegrass grow so well in Ontario, the coarser, less palatable, potentially endophyte-infected tall fescue is very rarely included in hay mixtures. Cool-season grasses are also more palatable and safer to feed to horses than the warm-season grasses growth in the southern US, such as bermudagrass.

Ontario-grown hay is “healthy hay”. Few forage diseases or insects survive the cold winter climate in Ontario. After the year of establishment, almost all Ontario hay is produced without the use of herbicide or insecticide. Blister beetles are extremely rare and not an issue. Ontario’s fertile soils are limestone based, high in calcium and pH. These glacial soils are relatively young, being deposited after the last ice age, so are naturally rich in trace elements. This high quality Ontario hay will support good bone development and growth of horses.

The Detroit-Windsor border is only a 6 hour truck ride from Lexington, KY and 18 hours from Ocala, FL. Transport rates are competitive, as Ontario hay is shipped south on “back hauls” after US produce and other commodities are imported into Canada.

For consistent quality, buy Ontario hay!

The Ontario Forage Council’s Hay Marketing Forum, with support from OMAFRA’s Business Development Branch, has plans to initiate branding Ontario hay in order to strengthen market opportunities for hay exporters and producers. For more information on this initiative and how to participate, contact Ray Robertson, OFC Manager, at 1-877-892-8663. For information on “Making & Marketing Horse Hay” refer to www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/makinghorsehay.htm.