SHELLEY — Agribusiness entrepreneurs identify an under-served market and develop capacity to meet the need. Cleo’s Cuttings, a small-bale hay enterprise, fits that model but is unusual in that owner Saydee Longhurst just turned 19 years old and is already five years into the venture.
Saydee has grown up on her family’s farm near Shelley, where her parents, Steve and Robyn, raise hay and grain. She launched her own hay business, “Cleo’s Cuttings”, in 2015, between her freshman and sophomore years of high school. She named it after her great-grandmother, also including her own middle name.
Saydee had access to the farm’s large bales but wanted small bales to feed her horses and needed something for her FFA Supervised Ag Experience at Shelley High School. She bought a small baler, unaware of how it would change her life and plans.
“The first year (2015), I put up about a hundred 110-pound small bales of alfalfa and hired guys to load trucks in the field,” she says. “It was a hobby, really, to feed my horses. I wasn’t thinking of it as a business until I sold everything I’d baled and had requests for the next crop. I sold more the second year, with a lot of repeat customers, and realized this could be a long-term deal and help me pay for college.”
Looking for a more efficient way to handle her alfalfa and alfalfa/grass product led Saydee to a Canadian-made small bale aggregator called a Bale Baron. She partnered with her dad to purchase a machine in 2016, shouldering a big commitment for annual payments. The unit gathers, compresses and string-ties 18 small bales into a bundle three bales high by six long, expediting mechanical loading, hauling and stacking, while retaining the advantages of small bales. A bundle will fit in the back of a pickup, or multiples can be stacked on a flatbed, then at a farmstead. Last year she sold about 350 bundles, approximately 300 tons.
Saydee’s business aligns with state-wide hay industry expansion. Hay is now second only to potatoes in value of production in Idaho. The Gem State is first in the U.S. for production of certified organic hay, and the second largest U.S. producer of alfalfa hay at over 4 million tons harvested annually, according to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA). University of Idaho Extension economists estimated the total value of Idaho’s hay crop at $835 million in 2018.
Cleo’s Cuttings is also among an increasing number of agricultural operations owned and operated by women in Idaho. ISDA estimates 26% of farms in Idaho have a female primary producer, up from 12% in 2012. The average age of Idaho farmers is 57. Saydee is among only 123 primary producers in Idaho under the age of 25 identified by the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
Saydee is alert to expansion and diversification opportunities. She hopes to build relationships with new quantity bundle customers such as stables, feed stores, and large events, and may add timothy acreage. She is looking at the cost/benefit of local deliveries. National markets and export are other possibilities.
Tapping the knowledge and experience of her parents is a definite plus, but Cleo’s Cuttings is separate from the family operation. Saydee buys her crop on the stump, rents equipment she doesn’t own, and pays for labor, even when it’s her dad or brother providing the work. She does her own budgeting, bookkeeping, and market development. Her favorite part of field work is baling, but she can be found in a tractor throughout the production cycle.
Few 19-year-old women post pictures of haystacks and tractors on their social media pages, but Saydee uses technology as a successful platform to market her hay and promote agriculture. Referrals yield many new customers, and she’s a member of the Idaho Hay & Forage Growers Association, where she advertises in their annual directory.
Saydee emphasizes, “I love it, but this business has to cash flow. I’m spending my own money and making plans for my own future.”
She will attend Utah State University in the fall, having deferred her enrollment and scholarships for a year after graduating high school to fulfill her responsibilities as 2018-2019 Idaho State FFA president.
“Utah State is close enough I can come home on weekends for the hay business,” she says. “I plan to major in ag education, which would give me time in the summer for farming. I always push myself and encourage other people to set goals and work toward them. I think I can make this work.”
Of a life in agriculture, she adds, “My dad has dirt in his DNA. I’m pretty sure I got some of it.”