Idaho. Ample precipitation in late February and early March has considerably brightened the outlook for the state’s alfalfa growers, says Will Ricks, of Ricks Hay Farms, LLC, near Monteview.

“We were pretty dry heading into the winter after last fall,” says Ricks, who grows alfalfa on 2,000 irrigated acres. “And we didn’t have much in the way of precipitation during December or January. People were starting to get concerned about whether we’d have enough water for irrigation this year.

“But then we got some good storms last month that helped us get caught back up. We’re not 100% out of the woods just yet. But it’s looking a lot better than it was just a few weeks ago.”

Dairies in southern Idaho and export firms are the primary markets for Ricks, who is president of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association. For the year ahead, the alfalfa market should remain strong, he says. “With California being so short on water, it looks like the supply will be pretty tight. They’re the driving force for a lot that goes on in this part of the country. Also, the price of milk looks better for our dairy customers. That may be good for alfalfa prices.”

Corn prices are a wild card. “If (corn) stays low, it would be one thing that would keep alfalfa prices from going higher.”

Locally, growers will closely watch their newly seeded alfalfa fields for signs of winterkill. “We didn’t have a lot of snow cover for most of the winter. Two years ago, we had similar weather and we lost a fair amount of alfalfa to winterkill. We could be looking at that again. Depending how widespread that is, it could have an impact on the alfalfa market also.”

Washington. Irrigation water also looks to be plentiful in Washington State’s Upper Columbia River Basin, reports alfalfa grower Shawn Clausen, of Stokrose Farms near Warden.

“For alfalfa, we really don’t have any concerns coming out of the winter,” says Clausen, former president of the Washington Hay Growers Association. “Most of our water comes out of Canada. The snowpack there has been above normal this winter, and our main reservoir here is full to capacity right now.”

He’s optimistic that high-end hay prices will remain fairly strong in the year ahead. Last year, Clausen, who has 2,000 irrigated alfalfa acres, sold most of his higher-quality crop to exporters. The price was in the $200-235/ton range at the stack. Feeder-quality hay went for around $175/ton.

“We could see more of a spread between the feeder-quality hay and the top-end alfalfa this year. The drought situation in California could bring some more export demand up north. Also, with milk prices improving, the dairies will be competing more for high-test hay. In the past couple of years, it wasn’t financially possible for them to do so.”