While hay production was more than adequate to meet demand in most areas during 2010, supplies in the southeastern corner of the state are likely to be tight heading into winter. That’s due to a long stretch of extremely dry weather, says Tony Hancock, reporter for USDA Market News in Jefferson City.

“They had plenty of moisture in that part of the state in the early spring, but things really dried up after that. By the end of the summer, they were in a mild drought situation.”

As a result, many livestock producers in the region had “zilch” for fall pasture growth, reports Hancock. “Quite a few producers are already feeding some hay. That’s about a month earlier than normal. Typically, they don’t have to start feeding hay until the pastures are snowed under. In a good year, that’s usually sometime in mid-December. They weren’t able to put up a lot of hay in the spring either, as rains ceased very early in the growing season.”

Even so, producers in need of hay shouldn’t have to travel too far afield to find a supply. “In the rest of the state, we’re in pretty good shape,” says Hancock. “With the wet weather we had throughout the growing season, there was a lot of hay made.”

Quality is another matter entirely. “There’s nothing impressive about a lot of the hay that was baled this year,” says Hancock. “The best you can say about it is that it will keep a cow alive. Many farmers will need to provide additional supplement to their feeding rations.”

Hay movement has been slow in recent weeks, as many farmers are wrapping up fall field work, he adds. The price for high-quality alfalfa has been hovering around 80¢/point of relative feed value. That’s about the same as it was a year ago. “You never know what’s going to happen. We could get some kind of surprise like a snow or ice storm that sticks around and doesn’t melt for a month. But right now, I don’t see anything coming along that makes me think prices will move very far one way or another in the months ahead.”

Hancock can be contacted at 573-751-5618 or tony.hancock@mda.mo.gov.

New York
Rainy weather in 2008 and 2009 was a source of major frustration for hay growers David and Theresa Brenner. In 2010, though, the North Collins couple got a break. “This year was wonderful,” says David Brenner. “We had a nice run of hot, dry weather in early July and were able to put up 90% of our first-cut hay then. It was some of the best hay we’ve ever made.”

The Brenners put up timothy hay on 120 acres. They package it in small square bales weighing 40-50 lbs and market most of it to horse owners from the Carolinas to Florida to Texas.

They arrange trucking for all hay shipments. “Customers don’t have to bother with trying to line up trucking on their own,” says Brenner. “We’ve used the same commercial trucking for many years. They’ve been very dependable.”

As a customer service, the Brenners arrange for a 24-hour trailer drop once the hay arrives at its destination. “The customer doesn’t have to worry about getting help to get the hay unloaded in just a couple of hours,” he explains. “Once they get the bales off the trailer, they just call the company and the trailer gets picked up.”

Currently, the Brenners charge $4.25/bale at the farm. They expect prices will increase this winter. “So far this year, it’s been kind of an average market,” says Brenner. “But we think demand could pick up very quickly based on some of the reports we’ve been hearing on crop conditions in different parts of the country. It seems like there’s a lot of hay out there, but not a lot of quality.”

Even so, any price increases the Brenners put into effect this winter will likely be modest. “We believe in working with our customers and charging a price that’s fair to them and to us. Our goal is having a high percentage of repeat customers.

“When the market is working in our favor, keeping our prices fair gives us an opportunity to gain some new customers. When prices are going in the other direction, our long-time customers remember that we were fair with them, and they stay with us. Gouging customers to try to cash in and make a quick buck isn’t good long-term strategy.”

To contact the Brenners, call 716-662-0309 or email davidpbrenner@cs.com.