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Ellensburg gains another hay exporter
Published on October 4, 2016 12:19PM
[Dan Wheat/Capital Press Mike Hajny, at Wesco International shipping yard, Ellensburg, Wash., in January 2015. He’s now started his own hay export company after 19 years of working for others.]
ELLENSBURG, Wash. — It’s been a tough couple of years for hay exporters, not exactly the climate for industry startups.
That probably puts Mike Hajny in a class by himself, or close to it.
“I’ve always liked a challenge,” Hajny said in explaining his start of Hajny Trading LLC, the eighth and newest of Ellensburg’s hay exporters. He said he knows of no one else getting into the business right now.
Hajny — pronounced Hay-Knee — 45, left the vice presidency of Wesco International, another Ellensburg hay exporter, in May to start his own company. Neither he nor Don Schilling, president of Wesco, would comment on why that happened.
But Schilling said it costs so much to get started and the market is so competitive “that it’s hard to find examples of guys getting into it and surviving in the past 10 years.”
“It’s capital intensive and more and more market is looking for bigger players and more stability,” he said.
Hajny said he agrees with that assessment but is banking on his experience and connections. He said he has very little overhead and isn’t stuck with large inventories accumulated at higher prices that larger companies may have.
Hajny was vice president of Wesco for seven years and was operations manager of Calaway Trading Inc., another Ellensburg hay exporter, for 12 years prior to that.
The West Coast port slowdown in 2014 and 2015 crippled hay exporters, causing them to lose overseas customers that they haven’t fully regained. By December 2015, some exporters were cutting employee hours.
Today, large inventories of hay and low milk prices are keeping prices down and domestic and export sales sluggish. Some producers say the bottom has been reached while others say prices may still go lower.
Hajny and Schilling both say things could get tougher. Hajny said the last two years have been the toughest in the industry’s history.
Supreme alfalfa has been at $185 per ton through the summer, according to the USDA, and feeder hay has been $130.
In 2014 supreme and premium alfalfa was in the upper $200s and reached $300 and $370 per ton in California, driven by a hay shortage before the port slowdown. Feeder hay was $220 to $240.
Hajny has contracted with Stone Wings II Import Export Inc. in Ellensburg to store and press his hay. He said he has exported about 25,000 tons of hay since May and has sold 10,000 to 15,000 tons domestically.
The largest West Coast exporters sold in the 700,000-ton range prior to 2014 while many handled around 100,000 tons apiece. Total hay exports from West Coast ports reached 4.5 million tons in 2013 before falling to just under 4 million in 2014 and rebounding to 4.2 million in 2015, according to University of California Cooperative Extension.
“My philosophy has always been to get in at the bottom and work up,” Hajny said.
He’s exporting mainly to Japan, as are Wesco and others. He also breeds and sells registered Black Angus bulls and replacement heifers through Hajny Land & Livestock.