Alfalfa growers in parts of southern California are getting ready to start second cutting as April begins.

“So far, so good,” says Craig Elmore, owner of Desert Sky Farms. “The alfalfa came through the winter in good shape and our yields on first cutting (started in early February) were pretty good, just a little over one ton/acre.”

An early and severe outbreak of blue aphids could crimp yields on some second-cutting fields though. “Right now, it’s looking like we’ll be a little off on yields, one ton/acre or less. We’ve had to stretch out our cutting schedule a bit because of the aphids.” The second cutting on his eight-to nine-cutting schedule usually yields up to 1.5 tons/acre.

Elmore grows 1,500 acres of irrigated alfalfa on two farms – one in the Imperial Valley, the other in the Palo Verde Valley. Dairies in California and Arizona are his primary market. But he also sells to exporters and retail outlets. “I’ll ship my hay anywhere there’s a good buyer with the money to pay for it,” he says.

Drought remains a concern throughout the state. But Elmore, who gets all of his water from the Colorado River, expects to have enough to meet his production goals this year.

“As long as we watch it and manage carefully, we shouldn’t have an issue,” he says. “If we do run into any problems, we’ll short the crop in the summertime when we’re ordinarily not putting up milk-cow-quality hay anyway. But I plan not to be short at all.”

Dairy-quality hay in his region currently sells for $260-275/ton in the stack. “Milk prices are up and supplies in some areas might get tight, so I think we could see a little bit of strengthening through the year,” he says.