California alfalfa growers will continue to see lower hay prices and an abundance of fair-quality hay this winter and spring, predicted Seth Hoyt, former USDA market analyst, at the early December California Alfalfa Symposium in San Diego.

“Top fair-quality, dry-cow alfalfa hay in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley went from $230/ton in early August and made the biggest drop we’ve ever seen, to $160/ton in early to mid-November. We just had more of that summertime hay production and more wheat straw and the lower outlook for hay prices all combine to really hammer that market,” added Hoyt, who now edits a Western market newsletter called The Hoyt Report. “Premium alfalfa hay dropped $50/ton, but not as much as the dry-cow hay.

“Milk prices didn’t do nearly what a lot of people thought they would do,” he explained. In 2007, November milk prices averaged $20.23/cwt and December prices, $19.09/cwt. Although 2008 milk prices started out strong, by November they were at $14.40/cwt and by December, $14.10.

The financial crisis hasn’t helped, Hoyt said. “It’s affecting the dairy industry and milk prices and, let’s face it, when the buyers of 75% of the hay in California are hurting financially, we’ve got problems as a hay industry.”

For Hoyt’s comments on alfalfa acreage in California, go to hayandforage.com/.

For expert opinions on future hay prices from around the country, watch for the January issue of Hay & Forage Grower, page 14.