Prices for alfalfa hay have been on a tear in recent months at Mid-American Auction Company’s twice-monthly, quality-tested hay auctions in Sauk Centre, MN, reports Dan Martens, University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension educator for Stearns, Benton and Morrison counties.

“Prices are higher than they’ve ever been, and they’ve stayed steady over the last several months,” says Martens, who has been using line graphs to track prices at the auction since 2001.

At the auction’s mid-January sale, he recorded medium squares of alfalfa testing 176-200 RFV and bringing an average price of $275/ton. Medium squares testing 150-175 RFQ brought an average of $263/ton. Those prices are up by $65/ton and $17/ton, respectively, from prices at last year’s mid-January sale.

Prices have also been strong throughout the 2012-13 sales season for grass hay in good physical condition, says Martens. At the Jan. 17 sale, seven loads of grass hay in large round bales and testing 5-9% protein averaged $96/ton. But one load sold for $45/ton; if that sale were disregarded, the round-bale grass-hay price would average $126/ton.

Tight hay supplies throughout the Upper Midwest go a long way in explaining the high prices, he says. According to an early January USDA report, on-farm hay stocks in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin on Dec. 1 were at 64% of the previous year’s levels for the same date.

“The volume of hay at the Jan. 17 sale indicates there’s still hay out there to be had,” Martens says. “But whether you’re buying or selling, you want to stay busy in the marketplace, finding connections and getting the job done.”

Emphasizing that he can “only guess” what the market may look like over the next few months, Martens wouldn’t be surprised to see good-quality hay prices stay at or near current levels. “About the only thing that could send dairy-hay prices higher would be an uptick in milk prices,” he says. “If milk prices stay stable, hay prices will remain stable.”

Prices for lower-quality beef hay could drop off, though. “With last year’s dry weather, people were putting up a lot of hay in meadows, roadside ditches and anywhere they could find something to cut and bale,” he says. “We may find there’s a lot of that kind of hay out there that could be coming to market. And that could have an effect on prices, and then again, maybe not.”

Sauk Centre auctions, held the first and third Thursdays of each month from September through May, begin at 12:30 p.m. To contact Martens, call 320-968-5077 or e-mail marte011@umn.edu.

For a full report on auction prices, visit the U of M Extension Minnesota Crop news website’s Hay Information page. To contact the Mid-American Auction Co., call 320-760-2979 or 320-760-1593.