EVERGREEN — One of the last of his kind - 92-year-old hay farmer Will Warner of the small community of Evergreen just outside of Kalispell has been in the Flathead hay business for close to 80 years.
Generations of Warners have helped feed Flathead Valley livestock for countless decades.
“As long as my health is good, I’ll keep going,” Warner told MTN News.
Warner has been working hay on his family land for close to 80 years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. “Oh, I just figure I’d make a good living at it and that’s what I do."
Warner wakes up at 5 a.m. each morning, has breakfast and is out on his old reliable John Deere tractor baling and loading hay late into the evening. “Sometimes 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.,” said Warner.
Warner's hay season typically runs from the first of July through the end of August specializing in two varieties, "mostly Timothy Orchard Grass and Alfafa.”
He usually bales around 600 tons of hay a year but said this season he will be about 100 tons short of that mark due to a statewide drought.
“I’m watering it, but it’s not going to do too much,” said Warner.
His phone has been ringing off the hook as ranchers across the state struggle to find hay. “Usually, this time of year I got my hay sheds all full and they’re pretty much all empty now."
He's been primarily selling to regular customers only and keeping his price consistent at $6 a bale while some farmers in the Flathead have raised prices during the shortage.
“It’s the best hay we’ve ever found, I mean I did find one other gentleman who also irrigates but his prices were absurd,” Bigfork rancher William McKean told MTN News.
McKean said he’s amazed by Warner's work ethic every time he swings by the farm.
“We’ve been watching the Olympics every day and you see all these young kids out there and I’m telling you, Will is up there with the best of them as far as being physical, I mean the guy is 92 years old, he does this whole operation. It’s just incredible,” said McKean.
West Valley Rancher Eric Amundsen has buying hay from Warner for the last 17 years.
“The guy goes and goes and goes and he doesn’t stop and he’s always fair to customers, so I can’t say enough good about him,” said Amundsen.
McKean said hay farmers like Warner are few and far between in the Flathead Valley, a sign of a changing landscape that could lead to dire consequences down the road.
“This is not going to go on forever unfortunately, every time we see a big, huge lot or farm field selling and a subdivision comes in that’s just less hay for all the people here in the valley, and it’s going to continue on,” said McKean.
For now, Warner doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon, bailing hay for his regular customers late into the night until his work is finished.
“Oh yeah I enjoy it, I just work at it, keep going."