It’s been a banner year for hay sales at Rock Valley Hay Auction in Rock Valley, IA.

“We did a very big volume in January,” says owner-manager Paul McGill. “We had some weather challenges on a few of our sale days in February. But when the weather cooperated, the runs were very good.”

Rock Valley holds two sales weekly during winter months. During January, the auction sold 530 loads of hay compared to 308 loads in January of 2012 and 325 loads the same month in 2011.

Hay this year has been coming from farther away than the typical 100-mile radius of the auction yard, McGill notes. “This year, the average distance for hay coming in has been around 300 miles. We’ve been getting hay out of northern Minnesota, northern South Dakota, North Dakota and Manitoba and Saskatchewan.”

Grass-hay prices have remained on the strong side throughout winter, ranging from $100 to $300/ton. In recent weeks, average-quality round bales have been bringing $180-195/ton. “Overall, the quality of the grass hay is poorer this year than in the past. But it’s been selling very well.”

The price for premium, dairy-quality alfalfa hay has backed off slightly since the start of the year. “We’re still seeing a few loads of the highest-quality alfalfa selling for over $300/ton. But most of the sales have been topping out in the $280-300/ton range. The medium-quality stuff hasn’t backed off at all. It’s still selling for $250-280.”

Slackening demand helps explain the softer dairy-hay market of recent weeks, McGill says. “The dairy producers were very aggressive late last summer and early fall. Most stocked up with good supplies. They were protecting themselves by buying ahead.”

At the same time, hay sales and prices typically enter a down cycle during January and February. “We could still come back with a rally in late March or early April. If it looks like things might stay dry in the region as we start getting closer to the new crop, things could get really interesting.”

Rock Valley Hay auctions are held on Thursdays year-round and on Mondays from November through April. All sales start at 12:30 p.m.

To contact McGill, call 712-476-5541 or email PaulM@rockvalleyhay.com.

Editor’s Note: Rock Valley Hay Day, set for March 21 this year, will feature bale-rolling and strap-throwing contests, a hamburger fry, Hay Day sales at local stores and a hay auction held on Main Street. See our photo gallery of last year’s Hay Day.