Every day is a ‘hay day’ for Amy Freeburg

Farm Forum

GAYVILLE — Amy Freeburg believes in making hay while the sun shines – or any other good time.

The Gayville woman and her husband, Gary, have owned and operated Freeburg Hay for more than 30 years. They have become well-known hay growers in one of the nation’s best hay-producing areas.

You could say every day is a hay day for them.

“We’re along the Missouri River bottom, and the land is well suited for alfalfa hay,” Amy said. “And around our area, the farmers are progressive. They take care of their product by building barns and tarping it.”

The Freeburgs keep around 2,500 acres in alfalfa. They specialize in alfalfa and mixed grass hays, cutting four times each season. Their main facility along S.D. Highway 50 provides easy access.

But the Freeburgs don’t limit their attention to their local operation. They have remained active with the National Hay Association (NHA), the industry’s U.S. trade organization, for 34 years.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” Amy said. “We’ve been members since 1981. I think that’s a testament to what we think of the organization.”

The Freeburg don’t just belong to the NHA – they have served at its highest levels. Gary served as president in the 1993. Amy was recently re-elected to another three-year term on the NHA board of directors during the association’s 119th annual convention in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We are delighted to have Amy continue her service to the U.S. hay industry as a member of the board of directors,” said NHA president David Fink of Germansville, Pennsylvania.

Amy welcomes the opportunity to continue serving at the national level. The 16-member board meets twice annually and includes representatives from across the United States. In addition, the Freeburgs serve on a number of NHA committees.

“Gary and I really like the networking and talking to people from across the United States,” Amy said. “They see things differently and have different thoughts on the issues we face in our business.”

The National Hay Association, started in 1895, marks its 120th anniversary this year, Amy said.

“We have members from 34 states. Our producers range from some of the smallest to some of the largest growers in the United States,” she said. “Besides the producers, we have exporters, brokers and distributors.”

The Freeburgs have visited 49 states – Alaska is the exception – in the course of their work. They have traveled the continental United States by car, providing them with a bird’s-eye view of the people and land that produce hay and other crops.

The nation’s hay supply is used for a variety of purposes, Amy said.

“The vast majority of hay is grown on the west side of the Mississippi River,” she said. “We have so much of our hay that moves for feed to the east side of the United States. The hay goes for beef and dairy, the horse industry and also for zoos.”

The Freeburgs ship nearly all of their hay to the eastern United States because most of the hay headed west goes for export, Amy said.

In that respect, the National Hay Association focuses its efforts on promoting foreign trade, she said.

“One of the major markets is in Asia,” she said. “They are feeding more livestock in Japan and China, but they don’t have the acres for growing forages.”

Hay exporters have run into a problem with Asian shipments, as labor issues have created a logjam, Amy said.

“The longshoremen don’t have a contract on the West Coast, which really slows things down,” she said. “For the exporters, that’s detrimental to their business. It really diminishes the rate at which they can come and go.”

The NHA isn’t a lobbying organization, but it does work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on international market development, Amy said.

As a couple, the Freeburgs are no stranger to foreign markets. Gary spoke in Australia on behalf of the forage industry, and they were part of the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership delegation that traveled to Europe.

As part of their support for the hay industry, the Freeburgs have signed up as part of a 10-person team staffing the NHA booth at every World Dairy Expo since 1990. The five-day event is held in early October in Madison, Wisconsin.

“We have 60,000 people who come by the booth (during the course of the expo), and we see people from all over the country,” Amy said. “It’s sort of like old home days. You see everyone back. We see people from Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Pennsylvania and other states. And we have international visitors who inquire about hay.”

Overall, she foresees a bright future for agriculture. She pointed to the push for growth in the South Dakota’s dairy production and the cultivation of other new markets.

In addition, Freeburg Hay appears on track for another generation as sons Jory and John have joined the operation.

“When the rest of the country takes a hit and is floundering, ag does better and stays on more of an even keel,” Amy said. “The world has more people all the time, and you have to feed those people.”