Overview

Worldwide, the term ‘compressed hay’ refers to various forage products compressed into tightly bound, high-density, low-moisture bales. Compressed forage products marketed around the world include:

  • grass-seed straw aftermath
  • alfalfa hay
  • Sudan grass/Bermuda grass from the U.S.
  • oats green-feed from Australia

Canada produces ‘compressed hay’ primarily from timothy and alfalfa hay, but other forage such as dehydrated corn silage is also used.

Forage grows extremely well under Canadian growing conditions. Canadian timothy and alfalfa is recognized in the Asian markets as both a palatable and nutritious source of fiber, and is in demand as roughage in Japan, China and several other countries. Timothy, native to Japan's Hokkaido region, is used as long-straw fiber in the diets of dairy and beef cattle there. Timothy is also used in the horse industry in the Asian markets. In addition, Alberta forage is used to produce a plant-based pet food for domestic use and export, primarily to the US.

Figure 1. Timothy hay field


Photo of Timothy hay field

Figure 2. Alfalfa field


Photo of Alfalfa field
Photo: Karin Lindquist

History

Export shipments of forages from the western provinces have increased from a trial shipment of 17 tonnes in 1981 to over 300,000 tonnes in 2020. Japan is Canada's largest customer for timothy.

Table 1. Canadian Exports of Forages – Calendar Year (tonnes)

Product 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Cereal straw and husks 26,262 32,799 30,277 32,941 41,879
Alfalfa in cubes (dehydrated) 22,691 12,357 2,176 1,150 1,233
Alfalfa, (loose or in bales) 87,578 85,841 77,346 55,733 48,476
Hay, timothy 203,048 253,958 278,932 292,765 311,948
Hay, other 48,035 46,200 50,623 55,352 58,331
Swedes, mangolds, fodder roots, sainfoin, forage kale,etc, w/n pelleted 11,729 10,973 8,343 8,326 9,715
Total Exports 399,343 442,128 447,697 446,267 471,582

Table 2. Value of Canadian Exported Processed Timothy

Year 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Exports - tonne 203,048 253,958 278,932 292,765 311,948
Value (million $ CDN) 76.5 94.8 112.7 119.4 133.5

Table 3. Canadian Processed Timothy Exports by Country(tonnes)

  2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Japan 118,325 143,793 174,613 175,129 167,114
United States 51,767 63,88 69,977 72,579 79,602
South Korea 15,903 33,471 20,399 24,778 46,267
China 10,777 5,586 3,210 9,223 6,192
Rest of World 6,276 7,227 10,733 11,056 12,773
Total Exports 203,048 253,958 278,932 292,765 311,948

Product use

Japan imports baled forage to supplement and replace locally grown roughage in the rations of dairy and beef cattle and horses. Timothy is grown extensively on the island of Hokkaido, Japan's major dairy region.

Figure 3. Timothy hay being double compressed


Photo of Timothy hay being double compressed

This local Japanese production of timothy bodes well for exporting nations, including Canada, for 2 reasons.

  • Local Japanese production of timothy forage makes it a known commodity.
  • Many Japanese dairy rations are formulated with timothy hay.

Continued growing awareness of the quality of timothy hay will support the shift to timothy and away from less-palatable, native grown forages, such as Bermuda grass, sorghum-sudan grass and rice straw.

Marketing timothy hay

Timothy growers marketing perspective

  • The production of compressed timothy for the export marketplace can be very lucrative. However, many details must be considered.
  • Processors require solid stands, with no contaminates of other plant species.
  • Weathering quickly down-grades the product.
  • Many foreign buyers still determine product quality visually. If samples from your delivered hay do not meet this visual inspection, it may be downgraded.
  • A simple rain shower at an inopportune time can result in discounts.
  • Cost and return budget information is done annually for selected Alberta regions.

Timothy processors marketing perspective

Compressed hay, being sold into an international marketplace, comes with more expenses, other marketing considerations, and therefore, more risk.

  • Additional costs of selling into an international market include brokerage fees, rail/container freight costs, ocean freight, export insurance, rejection insurance and port charges. Typically, a Canadian exporter may be paying ocean and rail freight of over $100/tonne, broker fees of $6 to 10/tonne, export and rejection insurance of $5 to $10/tonne, and a port charge.
  • Cost of setting up processing facilities and storage. Foreign customers require compressed hay year-round. Therefore, local processors must store the product in a dry, clean environment until processed and shipped.

International markets

Canada's main timothy export market as of 2020 is Japan (53.6% of exports), with additional sales going to the US, Korea, China, other Asian countries/region, the Middle East and Europe.

The Asian market is driven by changes in consumer eating habits. Brought about in part by higher living standards, these changes have led to an increased consumption of milk, milk products and red meat. This has encouraged a significant increase in dairy and beef cattle numbers and boosted demand for high quality, long fibre forage products. Forages provide fibre for proper rumen function. With a limited land base, smaller Asian countries must import large quantities of forage to supplement local production.

Figure 4. Baled timothy, ready to be dried down and compressed (processed)


Photo of Baled timothy, ready to be dried down and compressed (processed)

1. Market size

Japan is an important market for Canadian baled forage products as the largest world importer of timothy. Overall, Japan imports over 7 million tonnes of compound feeds and feed ingredients a year. Of this total, more than 2 1/2 million tonnes are forages, most of which are baled long-fibre forages.

Trade liberalization, export protocols, increased demand for fresh milk, growing acceptance for the substitution of other forage products for rice straw, and a steady expansion of the race horse industry are key factors that support the continued growth of Japanese demand for baled forage.

Table 4. Japanese Hay and Fodder (excluding those in cubes) Imports by Country (MT)

Origin 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
United States 1,491,650 1,550,656 1,496,861 1,589,455 1,569,018
Australia 484,800 518,482 561,312 527,605 527,984
China 155,903 204,537 235,708 226,878 221,637
Canada 101,806 141,311 153,568 138,271 145,199
Rest of World 29,274 34,420 41,411 46,280 48,516
Total Exports 2,263,433 2,449,406 2,488,860 2,528,489 2,512,354

China is the world’s second largest importer of hay and fodder, followed by Korea, Switzerland, the Netherlands, United States and Taiwan.

The United States is the largest importer of Canadian hay and fodder. Geographical proximity facilitates trade between the 2 countries.

2. The competition

Three countries compete with Canada for the Japanese baled forage market. The US is by far the largest supplier, followed by Australia, China and then Canada.

In 2020, Japan imported 1,569,018 tonnes of compressed hay from the US, 62.5 per cent of its total baled hay imports. Australia and China exported 527,984 tonnes and 221,637 tonnes to Japan, respectively. Canadian exports to Japan in 2020 were 145,199 tonnes, 5.8 per cent of Japanese imports. US baled hay exports are mainly compressed forage grass aftermath from ryegrass and tall fescue straw, while Australian baled hay products are primarily compressed green feed oats. Ocean freight rates give Australia a freight advantage over Canada.

Other competitors in the all-type forage market are Spain, Viet Nam, New Zealand and Italy.

Market access

Timothy hay exports markets are driven by 4 key considerations: foreign customer’s preference, quality specifications, product form and export requirements.

1. The customer

To the grower, the densified hay processor is the producer's customer. However, the real customer of baled hay is the foreign end user – the export market. To supply hay to the international market, Canadian growers should first contact a number of hay processors, thoroughly familiarize themselves with what the market demands, and then choose a processor to do business with.

Different processors may set different requirements and standards for raw material, based on market opportunities and their end-user preference. Contract options and services may also vary between processors.

Densified hay processors secure a supply of hay through various means. Some rely solely on spot market purchases. Others contract hay production from producers for 3 to 4-year periods at fixed or annually adjusted prices. Other processors go a step further and perform harvesting and storage functions on their contracted acres. With dryland yields averaging 1.7 to 2.5 tonnes/acre and 4.0 tonnes/acre on irrigation, 130,000 to 170,000 acres of clean, solid-stand timothy hay fields are required annually to meet market demand.

Figure 5. All Canadian timothy exports are shipped via container


Photo of Canadian exports are shipped via container

2. Product quality

The high cost of transportation to reach distant markets drives processors' demands for high-quality forages. Shipping low-quality roughages at high freight rates is economically unsound. Quality timothy hay, to the Japanese end user, means long, course stems with long heads. The market wants leafy stems with a good green colour and a minimum of brown leaves. The product must be free of mold, weeds, soil, Agropyron (quackgrass), Hordium (barley) plant species and other contaminants.

Stand purity is also important, although some processors have markets for different mixtures of hay, timothy straw, and mature off-coloured hay. This information is best obtained from processors.

The moisture content must be below 12 percent. Low moisture eliminates the chance of mold and moisture damage during transport and storage in hot, humid climates. Generally, the market does not set crude protein or fibre standards. Buyers rely on subjective evaluations of visual appearance, colour and smell, etc. These standards will vary each year, particularly so in wet harvest years when good quality roughage may be in short supply.

3. Product form

Baled forage destined for the export market is usually densified or compressed, which reduces shipping costs. Large double-compressed sleeved bales, each weighing about 400 kilograms, have taken over from smaller bales in popularity. They are more efficient to handle for both the exporter, importer and feed user. The densified bales are mechanically packed into 40-ft containers, transported by truck to an inland container yard and then by rail to a Canadian port. From there they are loaded on ocean-going container ships bound for offshore markets.

Processors accept delivery from hay producers in different forms, but large round or large square bales have become common. Bales are typically all reprocessed and compressed. Bales are broken open, dried down mechanically to 10 to 12 percent moisture, compressed and baled, poly wrapped, then loaded into containers. Samples from each lot are kept for reference.

Figure 6. Wrapped compressed bales, waiting to be loaded into a container for shipping


Photo of Wrapped compressed bales, waiting to be loaded into a container for shipping

Some Canadian companies have been investigating the provision of Japanese customers with Total Mixed Rations. This would result in sending a much larger compressed bale overseas, with timothy roughage in the bale with other feedstuffs to make the bale the only feed the animal would require. Bales could be as large as 1 tonne. Complete ration bales are attractive to more integrated, larger Japanese farms.

4. Export requirements

Export requirements vary by country. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) prohibits the importation of soil or plant species that could potentially be infested with Hessian fly larva or eggs. The Hessian fly is found throughout Western Canada and tends to infest wheat, barley, rye and other wheatgrass species, including quackgrass (Agropyron/Hordium) plant species. However, a protocol that kills any Hessian fly larva and eggs has been developed and applied to overcome that concern.

Canada has successfully negotiated a visual inspection protocol with Japan. The protocol allows shipments of baled forage to be inspected by a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspector or an inspector designated by CFIA. If certified free from prohibited material, a Phytosanitary Certificate is issued, and the shipment will be allowed access to Japan. However, Japanese inspectors will also visually inspect all shipments and can refuse entry if they discover any prohibited material. Entry refusal initiates a trace-back protocol established in Canada.

China also has stringent import requirements to prevent the import of plant diseases, such as Verticillium Wilt. Imports of Round-up Ready alfalfa are not allowed and care is taken to ensure that pesticide residues are at acceptable levels.

A major pricing factor affecting export sales of compressed hay is the risk of rejection. Rejected lots, landed overseas, results in great expense, considering ocean freight has already been paid. Rejected product causes great concern and cost to exporters, so care is taken to avoid those circumstances.

Summary

Markets for compressed forages are continuing to expand. In addition to the Japanese market, demand is increasing from China, Vietnam, India and Middle East countries. Competition is strong from Australia and eastern European countries, some of which have a competitive freight advantage to Canada. Canadian producers must continue to produce a consistent, high-quality forage to meet our export customers’ demands.

For more information, contact Neil Blue.

This content is maintained by Erminia Guercio.