That old, low quality hay crop has value!
By: Mena Hautau, Educator, Field Crop Systems, Penn State Extension
For hay producers, it’s been a difficult year to make high quality or even moderately quality hay. Hay prices are also strong and the loss of income is also a challenge. If the hay is beyond use for feed and there is no local bedding market, another option is to send old hay into the “mulch” or “mushroom compost” market.
Mushroom composters want orchardgrass or timothy hay that is mature hay or last year’s hay. They do not want alfalfa, hay infested with broadleaf weeds, wet and moldy hay or hay bales that are collapsed. They want lignified hay; hay with a LOW protein content. Composters need the lignin, or carbon, in the hay to create high quality compost. The carbon in the compost is used by the fungi to produce the mushrooms we eat!
Mushroom composters prefer large square bales or round bales. Check with the buyer to learn about their preference and requirements. Round bales are acceptable, but composters will pay less.
Prices offered by the mushroom farms are less than the price of hay for feed and fluctuate with the market. Current quotes from 3 composters in Berks and Chester counties ranged from $70.00 - $115/Ton. The Penn State Agronomy Guide estimates the VARIABLE cost to just maintain an acre of orchardgrass hay at well over $275/T. Call mushroom composters for details about the price, delivery times and locations. Mushroom farms frequently advertise in Lancaster Farming or you can go to this link from the American Mushroom Institute.