The USDA’s estimates for hay production in 2020, released March 1, put Arizona hay farmers at planning to harvest 325,000 acres of hay in Arizona, about the same as a year ago. When I first posted this statistic on my twitter account, @Cottonaggie, I thought that’s a lot of hay that will generate a lot of feed for our livestock and dollars for our economy.
It also sent me back to remembering the stories Dad and mom would share about their first business, a hay baling business.
Drive anywhere with my Dad [Pat Murphree] in the Valley of the Sun and he’ll comment, “I used to bale hay there.” In the early years of Dad and Mom’s marriage, they owned a custom hay baling business. He enjoys telling how much hay he baled and that the Gilbert and Chandler, Arizona area was considered one of the alfalfa capitals of the country. All his old stomping grounds are covered with homes now and his old landmarks are all gone. So now, he must give directions using street names. The following article was originally written for Julie’s “Fresh Air” blog with adaptations for Arizona Farm Bureau’s, “The Voice” blog. When you read this article, you’ll note quite a bit has changed in the way we grow and bale hay. The hard work and the dreams stay the same.
By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director
Early one morning after a long, dry night of baling hay, Pat and his baling partner, Joe Sanchez, stood at the end of an alfalfa field. Most of this field was stubble now, looking as smooth as a 1950s flat-top crew cut. They had intentionally delayed this particular baling job to hopefully gain a night with more moisture; as a result, they were working against the clock and the sun.
The two had finished the last of the steaming thermos of coffee earlier. They paused long enough to watch the rising sun crest the horizon changing the morning sky from dusky gray to orange. Spread behind them were acres and acres of alfalfa.
Rubbing his bone-tired arms, this had been no typical night of hay baling for Pat and Joe. Adding up the numbers in his head, Pat calculated that in a few more hours they would have baled and stacked more than 100 tons of alfalfa on Lyle Rigg’s farm, 30 bales of hay making a ton.
“Joe, do you realize we’ll have 103 tons of hay ready for Lyle soon. If we work fast, we might be able to say we got it done in just under 12 hours.”
Joe, squat but compact and solid, just laughed. “It already feels like 103 tons.”
“Let’s go then. Your turn on the tractor, it’s my turn to stack.” At that Pat pulled his worn, leather gloves back on as he stood just behind the baler on the trailer and picked up a hay hook as the tractor moved forward pulling the New Holland baler. He had built a matching tilt hay trailer and painted it red with yellow trim to perfectly match the bailer. Pat was a perfectionist and wanted his equipment to shine. The trailer was hooked up behind the baler.
Stabbing an 80-pound bale shooting out of the baler with the hay hook, Pat balanced the bale with his other hand landed it with a thud on the haystack. The neat stack of freshly pressed hay was slowly growing on the trailer that was hitched to the baler.
During this baling session he was glad for his white canvas chaps that covered his Levi’s. As he stacked, the rough 80-pound bales rubbed against his legs. He had worn out several pairs of Levi’s ? and even a pair of chaps ? with the amount of stacking he and a crew could do in one week.
The repetitive stabbing, balancing and stacking went on for several rounds in the field. They were near now to making their goal. It felt good.
After finishing up another stack of hay and dumping it into the field, Pat wiped his sweaty brow with his sleeve. On this morning, laying up the bales made the sweat pore. During cold nights one looked forward to the physical labor instead of the tractor driving. Stacking 80-pound bales kept the body warm. On the tractor in spring and fall when nights were cold, you froze.
Pat pondered how long he might be stacking hay bales for others. Hopefully, this business could help him with some of his own future goals. “Maybe 90 acres of my own alfalfa one day,” he said out loud to no one. His hay baling business marked one strategy to move in that direction.
And words were not lost to the silence. He and wife, Pennee, had talked hours on end about the possibilities.
He smiled thinking that another priority was getting an airplane. He remembered Pennee was a bit quieter when their conversations veered in this direction. But she never discouraged him.
The sun was higher in the morning sky. Joe was just coming to the end of the field, as Pat dumped another stack of 30 bales from the trailer to the ground.
Shouting over the tractor’s engine Pat said, “We’re almost out of wire. But we’ve got 103 tons. Good work, Joe. Let’s shut her down.”
Postscript : Four kids, six grandkids, his own farm and an airplane later, Pat and Pennee met their dreams and then some. He concedes his greatest achievements have been finding his wife, Pennee, and raising a family.
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