Slumping milk prices (see item below) are putting a lid on hay prices at quality-tested hay auctions in the Upper Midwest as winter progresses.

Prices at the twice-monthly auction in Stearns County, MN, have remained flat overall since the auction season began in September, reports Dan Martens, University of Minnesota extension educator for Benton, Stearns and Morrison counties. “The price for good- to high-quality hay was climbing a little from September through November,” says Martens. “But in the last couple of months, with milk prices falling off the table, it has dropped off. Dairy farmers are trying to manage their hay cost and save a little money out of their milk checks for other aspects of their businesses.”

At the Jan. 22 Stearns County sale, he reports, medium square bales of alfalfa testing 151-175 relative feed value (RFV) brought an average of $126/ton. Medium squares with an RFV of 126-150 averaged $104/ton. “That’s off some from the extremely high prices we saw a year ago,” says Martens. “But it’s also pretty close to the average prices over a four- or five-year period.”

The trend is similar at the newly opened Steffes Auctioneers auction in Litchfield, MN. “At the start of the season (November), top-of-the-line alfalfa hay was going for around $1 per RFV point,” says auction manager Roger Paul. “But at the last couple of auctions, that’s probably dropped by 5% or so. Prices for lower-quality hay are off by 20% from what they were in November.”

Gordon Klankowski, treasurer of the Houston County Forage & Grassland Council, reports that, compared to other years, hay movement has been down slightly at the council’s once-a-month quality-tested sale in Caledonia, MN. “A lot of dairies in our area bought their hay early this year,” says Klankowski. “People were worried about having enough on hand to get them through the winter.” Even so, he says, overall average prices at the first two sales of the season (December and January) were running $20-30/ton higher than they ran a year ago.

In Wisconsin, weather events crimped attendance at tested auctions in December and January. Due to a major storm the day before the auction date, only two loads of hay were sold at the Sheboygan County Forage Council’s monthly auction in Waldo on Dec. 10. Weather also affected the Jan. 14 auction. Just one load was sold.

Things were only slightly better in nearby Dodge County. The December snowstorm forced the Dodge County Forage Council to cancel its Dec. 9 auction at Beaver Dam. On Jan. 13, eight loads of hay were sold. The average RFV at the sale was 109; the average price was $120/ton. Topping the sale was a load of 129-RFV alfalfa hay, packaged in large square bales, which sold at $140/ton.

“With these kinds of limited sales, it’s hard to get any kind of good read on where prices are trending,” says Mike Ballweg, University of Wisconsin extension crops and soils agent in Sheboygan County. “From the reports we hear though, prices are holding steady or dropping a little. That’s to be expected with milk prices in the tank. Dairy producers are looking closely at every dollar they spend, and that’s going to have an effect on hay and forage prices.”

More details on the above-mentioned quality-tested auctions include:

Stearns County, Mid-American Auction facility, Sauk Centre, MN. First and third Thursdays of each month, September-May. Start time: 12:30 p.m. For more information: www.midamericanauctioninc.com. Prices posted at www.extension.umn.edu/cropenews. Next sale date: Feb. 19.

Steffes Auctioneers, Litchfield, MN. Second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, November-May. (Note: Steffes plans to conduct a once-a-month tested sale during the summer.) Start time: noon. For more details, including information on how to participate in the auction via the Internet, phone 320-693-9371 or go to www.steffesauctioneers.com. Next sale date: Feb. 24.

Houston County Forage and Grassland Council, Green Power Equipment, Caledonia, MN. Second Friday of the month. Start time: 1 p.m. For more information: Houston County Extension office at 507-725-5807. Next sale date: Feb. 13.

Sheboygan County Forage Council, Chissy’s Restaurant, Waldo, WI. Second Wednesday of the month, December through April. Start time: 1 p.m. For more information: Sheboygan County Extension office, phone: 920-459-5904. Next sale date: Feb. 11.

Dodge County Forage Council, Beaver Dam Auction Market, Beaver Dam, WI. Second Tuesday of the month, December through April. Start time: 1 p.m. For more information: Call Dodge County Extension crops and soils agent Matt Hanson at 920-386-3790 or auctioneer Dan Ritger at 414-333-8625. Auction results posted at www.widcfc.com. Next sale date: March 10.