A lack of irrigation water is putting a lid on 2012 alfalfa production for some growers in southeastern New Mexico.

With precipitation in short supply, growers in the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) have been allocated just O.8 acre-feet of water for the current growing season. Typically, they have nearly 3.65 acre-feet, says Woods Houghton, ag agent for New Mexico State University Extension in Eddy County.

“People with supplemental well water are doing okay,” he says, noting that, in the northern half of the county, growers are working on their sixth cutting of the season. In the southern half, served by CID, fifth cutting is under way.

Prices throughout the region are holding steady with last year’s levels, Houghton reports. Premium-quality hay in small square bales is bringing $280-320/ton in the barn; large square bales, about $10/ton less. Good-quality beef hay is fetching around $250/ton. “But there’s not a lot of it available because we haven’t had any rain,” he says. “Just about everything that’s been put up has been very high quality.”

Demand is lower than it was in 2011. “We’re short on supply just like we were last year. The big difference is that they’ve had rain in Texas this year, so the movement of hay in that direction is a little slower. Also, animal numbers are down in the West-Texas feedlots. That’s taken some of the pressure off the supply.”

Continuing doldrums in the dairy industry will likely keep prices from going much higher, Houghton believes. The mailbox price for milk in the region in recent months has been in the $14.50-16/cwt range, he notes. “The milk price just isn’t there to justify a higher hay price. If hay buyers aren’t making money on milk, they’ll move to a lower-quality, cheaper feed.”

To contact Houghton, call 575-887-6595 or email whoughto@nmsu.edu.