If Dan Sherwin has his way no less than five to ten Wallowa County hay growers will be receiving an additional $50 or more per ton of hay beginning this summer. That will be the offshoot of a new weed free hay program recently approved by the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners, the first such program offered in the state.

Final paperwork is in the works between Sherwin - the weed manager for Wallowa County -- and the North American Weed Managers Association (NAWMA) to allow hay inspected by the weed manager to be tagged as meeting NAWMA standards. Sherwin has already completed the training during a session at Twin Falls, Idaho.

Weed free hay that meets the NAWMA test is safely shipped to other states and other nations.

Sherwin says he will inspect hay fields before they are harvested and give the go-ahead to fields which have none of the 53 noxious or undesirable weeds on the NAWMA list. Each bale will then be marked with at least one strand of blue and orange twine to denote the weed free quality of the hay.

For long distance shipping such as overseas to Korea, Taiwan or Japan the hay can be shipped by truck to hay compression sites in Weiser, Idaho, the Port of Morrow or Ellensburg, Wash. Other common hay shipping sites include the East Coast or Alaska. Sherwin says that the demand for weed free hay is now acute in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, which are all experiencing drought conditions.

Working from $25,000 grant he received one year ago, Sherwin was commissioned to develop the hay inspection program, find market opportunities for local hay growers and possibly create a cooperative. Helping him to achieve these goals have been a five-member steering committee consisting of Jim Petty, Jim Dawson, James Yost, Jay McFetridge and Dan Gover. Sherwin is looking for additional grant money to continue his efforts.

Farmers will be charged a fee of $3 per acre to hire Sherwin to inspect their fields. He estimates that Wallowa County fields average from four to six ton of hay per acre.

For many years Wallowa County has been a hay quarantined county, meaning that hay, especially hay carried by hunters to feed their livestock, is routinely confiscated at the county line.

Sherwin expects to hear back from NAWMA within the next week. "If we get the blessing from NAWMA, things will be a go," he says. The approval would be just in time, he adds, because Wallowa County first cuttings begin about July 1. Sherwin also notes that second cuttings have a better chance of being weed free.

The weed manager is of the opinion that only five to ten farmers will avail themselves of the program in this first year, but hopes to see the numbers rise in the future as the financial advantages of marketing weed free Wallowa County hay become known. He says that the state of Idaho has a weed free program and is experiencing $50 value added per ton of approved hay.   

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