Prices for high-quality dairy hay in 2011 were as high as Duane Riggs of Garfield, NM, can remember in his lifetime. This year, says the past president of the New Mexico Hay Association, they’re likely to move higher still.

“Dairies in our area are just starting to contract for 2012 hay now,” says Riggs, who along with his wife, Michelle, does custom cutting and baling on 1,800 acres. “Already, we’re seeing prices of $300/ton (delivered) on some contracts for first cutting.”

At the start of last year’s growing season, Riggs reports, the first-cutting price in the area was closer to $185/ton. By the end of the season in October and November, alfalfa hay in one-ton square bales was bringing $200-220/ton.

Concern about water availability in the year ahead is the key factor pushing prices upward. “People are hurting for water all over the state,” says Riggs. “And when water supplies are tight, alfalfa is usually the first crop that farmers pull out of production. That’s likely to mean an even bigger shortage of hay this year than we had last year.”

To contact Riggs, call 575-644-8968 or 575-267-4788.