The Weilands live in the Matanuska Valley, where many of the farms are only five acres.
The Weilands’ Pioneer Farms LLC is 235 acres with about 180 acres suitable for brome grass.
One of the main differences in Alaskan hay production, Weiland says, is how the hay is dried and the importance of weather on hay harvest time.
“We don’t get 90-degree weather to dry our hay,” Teri explains. “A lot of what we depend on for dry hay is the wind.
Many publications say the most important thing about when you cut hay is the maturity level. Well, not here. We have to go by the weather.
We try and cut it as quickly as we can after it starts to mature, but we can’t just go by stage.”
Today the Weilands focus on their hay and farm equipment business, Pioneer Equipment Inc., but it was not always that way.
“We had a dairy in the early 1970s,” Teri says. “At the time we were on our way to having nine children. My husband was working on the farm, and he started the equipment business in 1969. We just couldn’t handle everything, so in 1974 we sold the cows.”
Focusing on one crop has allowed the Weilands to perfect the quality of hay they send off their farm. Teri says she can go out and say that the grass is ready to be baled, but her husband will go and check behind her.
He will say that it is not ready. Teri sarcastically says he is the most picky hay grower you have ever seen.
She will often just shake her head when Terry says the grass needs a few more days before baling. The Weilands guarantee buyers will be happy with their hay.
“If you get into one of our bales and it had weeds in it that didn’t dry as fast and they spoiled, we will give them a new bale,” Teri says.
“We get good money for our hay, and we expect people to be able to rely on us to give them good hay.”
The average per ton the Weilands charge is $320. For their prime round bales, which weigh 700 to 800 pounds, they charge $150.
As the Weilands are approaching their 70s, labor is something they constantly evaluate when making their hay.
They evaluate how much hay harvest will require of them physically. They prefer to put their best hay into square bales, and they use a bale wagon to haul the bales to the barn. All other hay is baled in round bales.
Other parts of the south-central Alaskan valley can grow timothy, but where the Weilands live it only lasts a couple of years and then dies.
“The types of timothy and brome were developed by USDA agriculture researchers,” Teri explains. “They used to have a research base in Palmer. They developed traits [such as winter hardiness] that grow well in Alaska.”
During the summer, temperatures in the upper 60s are typical for Palmer, Alaska, which is the town where the Weilands now live.
The winter brings temperatures that can drop to as much as -20ºF. The average rainfall in the Matanuska Valley is only 11 inches per year; the average amount of annual snowfall in Palmer is 50 inches. Warm winds in the winter thaw the snow and then at night the melted snow turns to ice.
“Our yard and driveway turn into an ice skating rink,” Teri explains.
Hours of daylight in Alaska are different from anywhere else in the U.S. During the summer it is light from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. However, Teri says that it never gets completely dark in the summer.
“It’s only dim at night in the summer,” Teri says. “The sun starts to go down around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and then it starts coming up again. I can cut hay all night in June and July, and I don’t need to turn the lights on.”
Teri thinks the long summer days help to compensate for the short growing season Alaska has.
The Weilands’ concerns about their hay are much like other production. Teri says one of the most difficult things about raising hay is not getting the rain when it is needed for growth and getting too much rain when it is time to cut the hay.
First cutting is normally started around June 20, but this year the Weilands have not had more than two days without rain.
Fertilizing your grass is something Weiland thinks all producers in Alaska should do.
Diversity is what led Teri to Alaska. In high school she read about “The Last Frontier” in a newspaper and said that was where she was going to live.
In the early 1960s, Teri saw that every hospital in Alaska needed nurses. With her degree and two friends whom she had talked into coming with her, all had jobs waiting for them in Alaska. Teri chose to be an operating room nurse.
Growing up, Teri always would be facetious and say she wanted to marry a farmer. At the Palmer Bar on Memorial Day weekend 45 years ago, she found a farmer who would become her husband and the father of her nine children.
Terry has allowed his wife to live her dream of farming and has given her some of her most prized possessions – her children and her very own tractor.
“At least I call it my own tractor; I let my husband and sons use it sometimes,” Teri says. “I love to cut and bale hay. It gets me outside, and I love it.” FG
Focusing on one crop has allowed the Weilands to perfect the quality of hay they send off their farm. They get good money for their hay, and people expect to be able to rely on them to get high quality. Photos courtesy of Teri Weiland.