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Aku Kuusela: “Nutrient content and feed hygiene are the most important factors for hay quality”

Interview by Erminia Ciarleglio, DLG

Aku Kuusela, 27 year old is a Finnish farmer who is managing an agricultural company called “Pollenpaali Oy” together with his younger brother. They have been running the family business since 2019, but they have been working at their farm since they have been able to.

The company is focused on farming, but they are also doing some agricultural contracting and farming machine importing and selling. The farming branch of "Pollenpaali Oy" is specialized in high quality horse hay production and straw production.

How do you manage hay production under the extreme weather conditions in Finland with the long winters and short summer?

The weather in Finland varies very much but it is not only bad thing. In Finland we don’t need often irrigation in our fields. Last few years have been quite dry though. Snow often melts in our area in late April so summer is really short. Finnish weather is good for growing grass and we get quite good yields of hay normally. Unpredictable summer weather is our hardest challenge but with experience and little bit of luck we have kept our customers happy year after year. You can’t blame the weather every year. At summer it is easier to work late because of light and dry summer nights. The shortening day at autumn instead is cutting baling time every day. Finland has its own crop varieties and grain is mostly spring cereal. It makes harvesting time quite late, from the mid-August to October. It gets too wet for baling straw in the end of September so we have to be quite efficient at season start. Winter pause is quite long but we are spreading lime on frozen fields and hay and straw deliveries with our farms truck are keeping us busy. Most Finnish farmers have forests to work with during the winter time and many tractors are put to work in snow plowing. Cattle farms are taking care of their animals. It is different here in the north but we are adapted to it.

Hay is the most important feed source for horses, the nutrient content of the feed depends on many factors. What makes your horse hay so high quality?

Our customers can make wishes of the nutrient contents of their hay and we are trying to do our best to deliver them the hay they want. We have different customers from young race horses to old pet horses and their needs are very different. Our fields are quite flat, open and big on a Finnish scale with very minimal soil type changing. We are using different species and varieties to get different types of hay and we fertilize them differently to get the nutrients right. We analyze the hay from every field separately and every bale we sell can be tracked down to the field where the grass grew on.

What is typical for hay production under your environment conditions?

We are using very little crop protection in our hay fields. Due to a cold weather and long winter, there are only a few plant diseases and grass has almost none of them in Finland. If you establish a grass field carefully, you don’t need to spray weeds every year. We are spraying our grass once or twice during our five-year grass rotation.

Due to changing weather, our dry hay drying process is finished in hay driers and haylage bales are stored on the farm yard to prevent pests breaking bales. Our principle is that we don’t sell bad bales. If there is some fault, we replace the bale. I can personally stand behind our fresh and green hay products.

Which factors influence the quality of hay? What is the most important indicator of hay quality?

The nutrient content and feed hygiene are the most important factors. If there are mold, soil or dust in hay there will be problems in horse health. Handling bad hygiene quality hay can be dangerous for stable workers health also. Dry hay storage is very important factor when trying to prevent mold and we are helping our customers to store their hay at the stables better with our knowledge. Feeding wrong type of hay to wrong horse can also affect problems. Horses are what they eat and they will also get fat if they eat wrong food. Good hay quality is not only to have lots of nutrients, it is more like to have a just right nutrient content to your horse. The most important quality indicator is right analyzed uniform quality hay. With good quality hay you can leave many of the additional horse feed bags to the store.

When is the right time to harvest the hay?

We are making hay twice a year. Our season starts with fertilizing in late April or beginning of May. The first cut starts mid-June when the timothy heads are starting to show up and the first cut is often finished early in July just before blooming. During the longest day of the year, we are often working on our hay fields. Finnish traditional mid-summer holiday in late June is the big party here in Finland but for us it is the right time to make hay.

After the first cut we fertilize again and the second cut takes place late in August and early in September. From the second cut it is hard to make dry hay because of the cooling weather so we are doing our dry hay mostly from the first cut and more haylage from the second. Second cut is more leafy and it is better for the old horses with bad teeth. After the second cut we let the hay grow a little to survive better from the winter. Snow helps plants to survive from the freezing weather and after the snow melts, they will start growing again.

You import and sell agricultural machinery. Do you expect new ideas at the DLG trade fair show “Agritechnica” in November 2023?

I have visited Agritechnica for over 10 years and my father has travelled to Hanover even longer. Of course, I will visit the trade fair again this year and I will definitely get new ideas from there. Our machine imports are based on specialized hay and straw production and handling units. All our first contacts and meetings with companies producing the brands that we are selling have taken place at Agritechnica.