Second-crop alfalfa growth was hindered by unusually cool weather in parts of western Idaho, reports Bruce Cruickshank of Caledonia Farms near Payette. “We had several days over the last month where our high temperatures were in the mid- to high 50s,” says the grower, who was just starting his second cutting last week. “When you get weather like that, it slows things down a bit.”

He raises alfalfa on 540 irrigated acres. His primary markets are dairies and alfalfa export firms.

Weather slowed his efforts in putting up the first crop as well. “We never got a lot of rain at one time. It just kept sprinkling, and we couldn’t get going on baling. Ordinarily, it takes us about two weeks to get it all baled. This year we were at it for almost a month.”

Even so, he was satisfied with the overall quality. “Some of it got a little bleached out, but most of it tested pretty good. At the start, we had some hay testing 268 for RFV with 25% protein. By the time we wrapped up, it was down to 178 RFV.”

Statewide, first-crop alfalfa production is best described as a mixed bag, according to Glenn Shewmaker, forage specialist with University of Idaho Extension. “We had yields of 4 tons/acre in our research trials at Kimberly (south-central Idaho). That was a little above average.

“In other parts of the state, though, there was a lot of winterkill at the higher elevations. Quite a few people lost new seedings, so there was a lot of replanting going on this spring. We also haven’t had much in the way of precipitation in some areas. The dryland hayfields are really dry.”

The net result: Total alfalfa acres could decline in the state again this year. “I thought we might gain some acres back, especially with the high prices we saw this past year,” says Shewmaker. “But between the replanting and the winterkill, we could actually lose some acres.”

A falloff in overall production won’t necessarily translate into continued high prices. Many growers remain concerned about troubles in the dairy industry, Cruickshank notes.

“Those guys are just bleeding right now,” he says. “Milk prices are low, and a lot of the bigger dairies are buying alfalfa month to month rather than for the whole year like they normally do. The banks are getting tough on them; they’re not extending credit.”

As a result, he looks for alfalfa prices in his area to drop slightly from 2011’s high levels. Last year, the price for dairy-quality alfalfa started out at $220/ton. The highest price he received was $260. This year he’s been offered $200/ton for first crop. “Until milk prices turn around, we’ll probably be down around $20-40/ton from a year ago for at least awhile yet.”

To contact Cruickshank, call 208-707-4811. Shewmaker can be reached at 208-423-6678.