Significant areas of alfalfa winterkill are now evident in Iowa, according to Steve Barnhart, Iowa State University agronomist. The worst areas are along the Highway 20 corridor in eastern and northeastern Iowa, with notable losses up to the Minnesota border and also in random fields in other parts of the state. Evidence of the damage was delayed because some plants began to green up and then died, says Barnhart. He says growers must decide whether to keep less-productive fields, try to boost their production by supplemental seeding, or plant new alfalfa fields as well as short-term forage crops for immediate future forage needs.

Dale Leslein, manager of eastern Iowa’s Dyersville Hay Auction, reports that lower-quality hay brought $10-15/ton less at the May 7 auction than it had the previous week, but better hay was fully steady. A load of 171 relative feed value round bales of second-cutting alfalfa sold for $210/ton, a record price for round bales. The top price on big square bales was $202.50/ton for a load of mixed hay. Leslein says the straw market was firm, with large square bales bringing $40-44/ton.

“New-crop hay harvest will be delayed because the late spring has the hay way behind last year’s,” he says. “Locally, farmers need a break from the rain so the planters can get rolling.”

Contact Barnhart at 515-294-7835; Leslein, at 563-875-2481 or

New York

Phil Saunders of Sugar Creek Farm is currently storing hay that brought him $240/ton from a racetrack client. He still has 3,000 bales of the client’s hay, but that’s nothing compared to what this Dansville, NY, grower can store – more than 50,000 small square bales in three hay barns. “We put the barns up with the idea that we would store hay for our customers in the winter,” he explains. “One of the reasons we can command a higher price for the hay is because of our storage and load-out facilities. A semi tractor-trailer can pull right into the barn to load. All of the loading is done mechanically.” He works with three brokers to provide well-known racetracks, including Belmont Park, with high-quality hay.

He expects to start selling this year’s hay at around $200/ton. “The people who know about horse hay are willing to pay good money for quality hay,” he says. “There’s been such a shortage that people are offering more money for the hay before I’m asking for it.” He grows mostly timothy hay and plans to increase acres from 800 to 1,200-1,400. To rotate with the hay, he’ll raise vegetables such as snap beans and sweet corn. His area was below normal snowfall this winter, but has had a wet spring with one of the warmest Aprils on record. “We had 14 days above 70 degrees, and 12 days above 60 degrees,” he reports. “The hay took off well. Then two weeks ago we had some rain and even snow that slowed growth down a bit.” His first cutting should be ready to harvest the first week in June.

One of Saunders’ barns has a hay dryer featured in Hay & Forage Grower’s January 2003 issue, available at Contact Saunders at 585-335-8664.