Low water supplies will likely hold a lid on hay production in the Intermountain West for some time to come, says Wayne Kruse, owner-auctioneer of Centennial Livestock Auctions (CLA) in Fort Collins, CO. “Even with a wet year this year, it will be a long time before we get back to where we see piles of hay sitting around anywhere,” he says.

Last year’s drought severely crimped hay production in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and other states in the region. As a result, supplies were extremely short heading into the winter feeding season. “From what I can see, the stockpile just isn’t there,” says Kruse. “A lot of people used up their hay to get their cows and other livestock through the year.”

The hay-supply shortfall has put upward pressure on prices at CLA’s once-a-month auctions. Currently, auction prices are $50-100/ton higher across the board than they were a year ago, Kruse reports. Alfalfa hay with a relative feed value of 180 and up has been selling for $300-400/ton, while alfalfa that was “left in the field too long or has some damage” has been selling for $250-300/ton.

Good mountain grass hay will bring $300-plus per ton. “The horse people really like it. If it’s dark green and pretty, it will usually bring a pretty good price.”

While some sellers might be waiting for prices to move even higher, Kruse isn’t sure that’s a good strategy. “You get to a point where people just can’t afford to pay any more for hay if they want to keep their livestock and stay in business. And we may be at that point now.”

Hay auctions at CLA are held on the last Saturday of the month year-round. Start time is 10 a.m. Preregistered buyers can bid online by going to cattleusa.com and selecting Centennial Livestock Auction Co