"I'm interested to see this from your PNW perspective. Here in New England, I've always read that it's pointless to grow your own hay and your own corn. The savings after the cost (labor, land, seed) to grow far exceeds what you could make as profit growing alternate crops and buying feed."
"its pointless to grow your own hay or corn" - there's two parts to that.
First, I'm never, ever going to be able to produce the corn more cheaply than the guys in the midwest. Their economies of scale, much larger equipment, established subsidy system and infrastructure for moving corn around is unbeatable. We produce corn in the midwest with the most efficient production possible on this planet. And I'm not kidding. American corn production is amaizing :)
But that speaks to the cost to the farmer for producing the corn; that's not at all the price that I end up buying that same corn for here.
The corn I get here in Washington may come from the midwest, but it passes from the farmer to the grain elevator to the railroad and then to a broker or commodity speculator and finally gets here to the local feed mill, and then to me. Every step of the way there's a markup. So what the farmer produces for $3 and sells for $6 in iowa ends up being $12 to $14 here in sacks at the feed store, or $380/ton in bulk feed (=$10.50 for a 50lb unit)
I don't have to compete with the guys in iowa at $3 - if I were to try to sell my corn on the commodity market that's what I'd have to do, and I'd go broke trying that. What I do have to compete with is the local retail price here of $12 -- and that gives me a lot more room to play. at $12 a bushel and 150 bushels/acre I'm harvesting $1800/acre worth of corn, at retail per acre. And that's with a low-yield, short-season corn. 150 bushel corn is nothing special; high-yielding varities are over 200 bushels. Bushel of corn is 56lbs, btw. I chose this type of corn based on it being a 90 day corn; I want it to mature early, and have the most time possible to dry-down before harvest. September and october are usually fairly dry months here.
Now corn prices this year will likely be lower; the farmer press is sure of it. But even if corn goes to $4 a bushel (30% reduction in price) or $3/bushel (cost of production, 50% price drop) that often doesn't result in a 30 to 50% price drop at retail; those guys still want their cut, and as much as they can. So the price I'm competing against is insulated from market prices - which means that I still have quite a bit of margin before I lose money raising corn.
And Bill, you're right. To buy corn from the midwest with farm revenue I'd have to grow and sell something else, and probably sell at wholesale, and then use those wholesale dollars to buy at retail. I'd like to step off that path and try something different.