Recent shots of moisture hitting much of the Tri-State region could be a game changer for the 2013 hay crop, but will it be enough? With many hay yards sitting empty, hay producers and marketers weigh in on issues that could affect supply and demand going forward into summer and fall.
“I would say that across our marketing area, which spans from Iowa to Idaho, the hay crop is two to three weeks late. It seems like it has either been cold or dry everywhere, and at least the first cutting is likely going to be light on the tonnage side,” explained Barry McRea of Valley Video Hay Markets, based in Torrington, Wyoming.
Adding to the light tonnage in Torrington, and other irrigated areas, is the fact that irrigation water is often still in short supply. McRea noted that in eastern Wyoming, irrigation water isn’t being turned on until June 17, which will result in most producers taking their first cutting prior to that date.
Dakota Hay Auction owner Willie Groeneweg agreed, saying that in Corsica, SD, where his auction is based, things are currently slightly dry.
“Alfalfa in our area is going to be two weeks late, but it does look like yield will be decent if they can get it up right. Grass hay is looking fairly good, but that will also be in question until it’s baled with all the moisture that is coming in around us – we seem to be just west of some of the major flooding seen the last few weeks, and we would prefer to continue missing that,” noted Groeneweg.
In south central North Dakota, hay producer Pat Doll explained that it was still freezing every night until two weeks ago, but that recent moisture and warming temperatures have greatly improved growing conditions.
“We were cold so long and late that many producers in this area ran short of hay and had to buy more this spring. But, we have had over six inches of rain in the last 10 days, so it looks like we’ll have hay to put up this year.
“The alfalfa is coming along nicely. It’s only about three inches tall because of the cold, but it’s looking good now. My only concern at this point is that we will get too late into the season and it could get hot and short on us,” said Doll.
Producers with hay to harvest will then be faced with the decision of when to market hay. For those with no personal livestock to feed, hitting the early market will garner prices similar to those paid last year.
“At this point prices seem to be steady with last year. In the Riverton, WY and Idaho areas we’ve seen alfalfa hay contracted at $200 per ton in the last week,” explained McRea.
Groeneweg’s auction sold two-year-old alfalfa for $210-$240 per ton last week, with better alfalfa in round bales bringing $280 per ton. Grass hay was primarily in the $180-$240 per ton range, and at present alfalfa remains the better buy from a feed value standpoint.
“I think there is going to be a variety of both holding and marketing hay early. If we get a good year the prices will come down, but if we don’t they could go up, and the cattle and dairy producers cannot pay this kind of price forever – those will all be pricing factors going forward in the season,” added Groeneweg.
Another challenge for growers is the availability of seeds for alternative hay crops.
“I was thinking about putting in some millet, and I have called every seed house I know of, and haven’t found any millet seed. It primarily comes up from the south, and with their drought last year there just wasn’t any production. I had one lady I called tell me that if I found any to be sure to tell her. If guys want to plant late season grain hays and can’t find any seeds, that isn’t going to do anyone any good either,” noted Doll.
Regardless of what is grown, or in what volume, the real question that will determine price and availability is how many cattle will be around to eat it this winter according to McRea.
“Generally, when it’s dry hay prices go up, and when it rains hay prices go down. But this year if it stays dry people in Wyoming and Western Nebraska are going to sell cows and there won’t be the demand for hay. If it rains and no more cattle are liquidated, prices will remain high. The key this year is how many cattle will be retained and how many will go to town, and I don’t think anybody has the answer to that yet,” he explained.
If producers are planning to hang on to cattle numbers and purchase hay this year, Doll suggested getting right to work.
“I would procure a supply early. Unless we get a huge first cutting and the second cutting comes along really good, I think hay supplies will remain extremely tight this year. There just isn’t any old hay sitting around anywhere, and while conditions are improving rapidly, everything is still short,” he concluded.
“Many of the pastures are greening up nicely, but have been very slow to respond probably due to the very dry summer and fall last year.”