Is Hay Farming in ASALs a Good Profitable Idea?

Are you wondering if hay farming is profitable in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas (ASALS)? In this post, we will assess the amount of money you will make by growing hay for sale. The analysis will use a simplified cost-benefit formula for one acre of Boma Rhodes pasture grass. For comparison purposes, we have included the African Foxtail and the Maasai Love grass.

The net profits or benefits for hay farming in Kenya is around Ksh 100,000 per acre. According to the estimates below, the total benefits of selling bales of hay and seeds are Ksh 121,000. On the other hand, the total cost of land preparation, farming inputs, materials and labor needed in hay farming is Ksh 21,000. On average. The detailed CBA analysis below will highlight these items further.

Related; Which Is The Best Pasture to Grow in Kenya

Why hay farming?

Is hay farming a good agriculture business idea? There are many benefits of growing pasture as a cash crop. These include;

  • Access to hay contributes to stable income for pastoralists during drought and dry spells.
  • It reduces resource-based conflicts and improves regional security.
  • The hay value chain attracts investments in other sectors such as dairy farming and supports ecosystem services such as tourism.
  • Hay Production is a sustainable climate-smart agriculture strategy, to provide resilient livelihoods for vulnerable herders.
  • The availability of hay reduces the need for long-distance walking in search of grazing grounds reducing animal exposure to disease and wildlife predation.
  • Hay cropping also improves soil quality and reduces soil erosion and soil compaction during flood years

Benefits of Hay Farming in Kenya

How profitable is hay farming in Kenya
An illustrative cost-benefit analysis for hay farming in Kenya

Wondering how much money you will make from hay farming? Your income will come from 2 main sources; selling hay (bales) and grass seeds (Kg).

The total sale earnings of hay farming is around Ksh 182,000 per acre. It is a sum of Ksh 69,000 sale from hay and Ksh 113,000 by selling grass seed.

 The hay sales are a product of average yields and selling price per bale. The average yield of Boma Rhodes hay in Kenya is 275 bales per acre of 15 kg each. The hay yields range between 200-300 bales depending on the AEZs, grass species and the adopted agronomic process. The average price of a bale of hay in Kenya is Ksh 250. This may fall to Ksh 200 during peak season and can rise to Ksh 350 in the drought period.  

Wondering where to sell hay for the best prices in Kenya? The areas with the highest demand are towns with zero grazing or intensive dairy farming.  According to recent market trends, these are the central Kenya counties such as Kiambu, Nyeri and Nairobi.

Boma Rhodes grass can yield 142 kg of seed per acre. Assuming an average price of Ksh 800/kg, you can make around Ksh 114,000. You can sell seeds to other farmers and seed companies.

Cost of Hay Farming in Kenya

The cost of starting hay farming in Kenya is around Ksh 63,000 per acre. This is from a one-off cost of establishment of Ksh 42,000 that is used in constructing a store, fencing your land and bush and stone clearing.

The rest Ksh 21,000 is for land preparation, labor and acquiring farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.  We will cover these by exploring how to grow hay in Kenya.

Land Preparation costs

This is the cost to prepare virgin land or farmland to grow hay. You will need to plough and harvest it to have fine tilth for healthy root development. The ploughing cost for an acre of land in Kenya is around Ksh 3500 using a hired tractor.

Manure and Fertilizer costs

To get high grass and seed yields you will need to use quality farm yard manure, planting and topdressing fertilizers.

Broadcast farmyard manure or compost at 10 tons/ha and harrow before planting seeds.

Recommended planting fertilizers are SSP at 2-4 bags/ha or SSP or DAP at 1-2 bags/ha.  To know the right type and quantities do a soil test.

In the year of establishment, top-dress your grass with 5-7 bags/ha/year of CAN or ASN in 3 splits during the rainy season or 5-10 tons of farmyard manure.

For established grass from year two, top-dress your grass with 2 bags of SSP or 1 bag of TSP per ha per year in addition to the nitrogen fertilizers.  

To assess the cost of fertilizers, consult the prevailing market prices.  

 Seed costs

You can grow both the indigenous and improved grass types. The major indigenous species are Maasai Love grass, African foxtail, Bermuda grass and Tanzania Guinea Grass. On the other hand, the most common grass pasture types are the Brachiaria, Napier grass, Boma Rhodes, horsetail and Chloris  

The common practice is to mix various grass types with some legumes for a more healthy hay. The recommended Seed rate is 2kg/acre. With the current prices being Ksh 1500/kg you will spend Ksh 3000 for seeds.

Labor Costs

These are the costs for crop management of hay grass including, sowing, weeding and seed harvesting.

  • Sowing labour; Planting is carried out through broadcasting and drilling in furrows. The seed is first pelleted for them to flow readily during drilling, which is done at a rate of 0.5-1 kg/ha in rows 30 – 40 cm apart. The seed is best sown on the surface not deeper than 2 cm followed by rolling. For broadcasting, the seed is best mixed with sawdust or sand
  • Weeding labor; Very important during the first year. Done by hand by either uprooting or using a hoe or use of selective herbicides
  • Seed harvesting; Seeds are harvested when they show signs of browning (straw color) before the start of seed fall by striping the ripe panicles. Carried out during dry conditions. The seeds are stored in air-dry conditions away from moisture and rodents

Misc Costs;

Other costs that may be incurred in hay farming include fence repairs, purchase of gunny bags for storing seeds and purchase of selective herbicides

Cost Benefits Analysis

Comparative cost-benefit analysis for various crops and hay

As the analysis shows, hay farming in Kenya is very profitable. The net profit in the first year is at least Ksh 160,000. The profits will significantly increase the following year because there will be no cost on crop establishment, and yields may double. Maintenance and harvesting will be the recurring costs in the second and third years. After the third year yields diminish and it is better to remove the crop.

According to a study of hay farming in ASAL areas of Kenya, grass farming can give you an average income of Ksh 63,375/year. Other crops such as Maize, green grams and pigeon peas have the highest possible income of Ksh 12900. This shows the big potential of grass farming. Besides income benefits, it can do much better under dry conditions with scattered rainfall.

Challenges of Hay Farming in Kenya?

While pasture production has many benefits for you, below are the common challenges affecting hay farming in Kenya.

Hay yields in the last 5 years were affected by wildfires, floods, droughts, and locust infestation.

The profitability of hay production is easily affected by drought cycles. The prices and sales foes high during drought years and drop during the average to good rainfall years. This may require you to construct or hire storage that might be expensive for you.

In pastoral areas, your pasture farm may suffer from illegal grazing by livestock that destroys growing pastures

As a hay farmer, you are likely to get inadequate extension services and training for profitable hay production. 

The assessment notes that the actual figures will differ for each farm and region depending on various factors such as crop management practices, use of machinery, irrigation etc., As such, this post is intended for learning purposes only.

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  • Thanks for the article. What is the shelve life of hay bales if well stored?

    26 February - 2024 at 08:57 AM
    G. Wambugu Reply
    • High-quality hay, if stored correctly, can last up to two years.
      To extend hay’s shelf life, ensure proper storage conditions free from moisture and dust, and regularly inspect for mold, damp spots, and insects. Additionally, maintaining proper ventilation and temperature control during storage can help preserve hay quality.

      26 March - 2024 at 07:55 PM