Dry weather throughout Kansas is a major concern for its hay growers as the 2014 harvest season gears up. Some alfalfa growers are already irrigating their fields.

“Normally, they like to save that water for later cuttings,” says Steve Hessman, market reporter for the USDA-Kansas Department of Agriculture Market News in Dodge City.

“It might not look that way on a drought map, but it’s as dry now as it was a year ago. In some places, we do have a little surface moisture, but no one has subsoil moisture.”

Strengthening prices for premium-quality alfalfa hay could explain the early irrigation. While there has not yet been much trade on new-crop alfalfa of that quality, the current price level looks to be in the $220-230/ton range. Grinder hay made from pivot corners is being offered for $150/ton. A year ago, the spread was narrower, with premium alfalfa bringing $210-240/ton and grinder, $170-210.

“So those who have good clean stands will cut earlier (even though it means lower yields) and go for that dairy market.”

Dairies in Texas and New Mexico aren’t doing much shopping in Kansas just yet. But with a lot of Arizona hay already moving to drought-plagued California, that could change as new crop starts.

“It’s hard to sell hay that far away until it’s in the bale,” he says. “When you have new customers working with new sellers, it takes some time for them to get to know each other.”

Hessman’s bottom line: “As long as it stays dry, you can expect prices to strengthen.”

To contact Hessman, call 620-227-8881 or email steve.hessman@kda.ks.gov.