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'It's discouraging': Some landowners in Star unable to get hay cut, baled

The Treasure Valley has fewer custom hay workers because people are retiring and equipment costs keep increasing.

STAR, Idaho — Tucked away in the northwest corner of Star, surrounded by new development, lies a neighborhood of small family farms — including the five acres Kurt and Leslie Krause live on. 

"It's a lifestyle," Kurt said. "The goal is to make your property work for you so you can enjoy it." 

But Kurt, along with several neighbors, said it is getting harder to maintain their way of living. They are struggling to find workers able to cut and bale their hay.

Kurt and Leslie resorted to buying all the hay their horses need from a store. The couple will likely end up mowing all the hay in their backyard. 

"Not that I'm growing corn or wheat or anything like that, but it's still growing hay," he said. "People have horses, and they still need to feed horses. That avenue is kind of going away, and it is just sad to see." 

Kurt said previously, they have not had many issues finding workers to help out. But times are changing, a sentiment Russel Jensen, who lives next door, agrees with. 

"A lot of [workers] are going to the big round bales, you know, the larger farms, and you just don't see the small bales like we used to," Jensen said. 

Cole Hungate, Hungate Custom Hay co-owner, said there are companies around the Treasure Valley willing to take on small projects. However, working on smaller plots of land does not make a lot of sense financially. 

Not only do smaller jobs pay less, but they also run a greater risk of damaging equipment.

"We cover a lot of country," Hungate said. "To make those road trips for a five-acre place where you're going to make 100 to 200 bales, it's not feasible to drive over for a job that's going to pay between $100 to $200."

Hungate said the minimum cost people need to pay also keeps increasing, since equipment keeps getting more expensive. Additionally, there are fewer workers available to cut and bale hay since people are retiring, and getting into the industry takes millions of dollars. 

"We keep watching the price of equipment go up more and more and more," he said. "There's going to be a breaking point somewhere. We don't know where it's at yet, but it is concerning to watch."

While Kurt understands the issues industry workers face, he said small farms should not get left behind. Not getting their hay cut means the Krause family might have to change homestead gears altogether. 

Kurt said they are now looking at growing hops — anything to keep using the land they still have. 

"We want to be part of getting the voice out of, 'hey, small-acreage farming is still something do around here,'" he said. "But it's tough to get people to help you out."

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