Lisa Smit is desperately trying to find a steady supply of hay for the horses at her Florida equestrian center. She has four to seven semi loads per year of mixed hay shipped in from other states, but this year can't find what she needs.
“I can't find anything,” says Smit. “I know the freight is going to cost more than the hay. But I would think that, at least for $250-300/ton, I should be able to get something delivered.”
She's not the only frustrated hay buyer around. Horse interests and dairy producers nation-wide are scrambling to find hay at affordable prices. Extreme drought in the East and West, too much rain some places in between, an Easter weekend freeze and the emphasis on corn for ethanol have all combined to create a hay shortage the severity of which perhaps has never been seen before.
With a few exceptions, prices are uniformly high, approaching summertime records in some areas.
Here's a quick look at the current hay supply and price situation in selected states:
Florida — Until recently, the sunshine state had too much of it and not nearly enough rain. But the situation has improved, reports Andy Burns, hay seller for Larsen Farms, Ocala.
“We've had lots of moisture,”says Burns. “There should be plenty of local forage produced over the next 90 days.”
Based in Idaho, Larsen Farms ships alfalfa hay by rail to Florida, where prices are up in part because of record-high demand in the West. Burns says dairy-quality hay is bringing $245-plus/ton in northern Florida and southern Georgia, and small bales of horse hay range from $325 to $365/ton.
Tennessee — “Right now we have half the hay supply that we normally have,” reports Gary Bates, University of Tennessee extension forage agronomist.
He says round bales of beef-quality hay are selling for $55-60/bale, up from $15-20/bale two years ago. Drought and especially the Easter freeze curtailed forage production, forcing some producers to sell cows. Others are stretching their limited hay supplies and praying for rain so pastures can be stockpiled for winter grazing.
“If we have a really dry fall, it will go from being serious to being just devastating,” says Bates.
Kentucky — Sporadic rains in July eased the drought, but first hay-cutting yields were about half of normal, says Tom Keene, University of Kentucky extension associate. With little hay carried over from 2006, the supply is tight.
“Our beef producers can't afford to pay exorbitant prices for hay,” he says. “It just won't pencil out. They'll have to either feed other commodity feeds or stretch the hay out. The last resort would be to sell livestock.
“They're going to have to be really good managers to get through until the '08 crop comes in,” Keene adds.
Pennsylvania — “It's dry over here,” reports Paul Craig, extension educator in Dauphin County. “We had a short first cutting and it hasn't gotten any better for second and third cuttings.”
Spotty rains have helped, but the state overall remains droughty, he says. Some farmers were chopping corn in early August. Prices for top-end alfalfa hay have surpassed $200/ton, a level Craig has never-before seen this early in the season.
South Dakota — “Overall production is very good in South Dakota,” says Jerry Bawdon, USDA Market News reporter in Sioux Falls. “There are more big round bales visible from the highway this year than I have seen for the last five or six years, and that's from one end of the state to the other.”
Overall quality is good, too, says Bawdon. Western South Dakota is getting dry and grass growth has slowed, so some fall calves went to auction a few weeks early. But hay is plentiful.
Continue reading on hay supply in the U.S. >
Texas — Extreme wetness has plagued the No. 1 hay-producing state much of this summer. A lot of hay has been harvested, but Larry Redmon, Texas A&M University extension forage agronomist, is concerned about its quality.
“As far as quantity, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape,” says Redmon. “It's just a matter of how much supplement are we going to have to feed with our hay this year with that lower nutritive value.”
He says growers are much more upbeat than they were last year, when the state was in a severe drought.
Texas growers produce mostly grass hay for beef cattle. The state's growing dairy industry imports most of its high-quality alfalfa from other states. Prices for dairy-quality alfalfa are mostly in the $150-160/ton range.
Nebraska — Hay production and quality are both down, says Barb Kinnan, executive director of the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association (N.A.M.A.). Parts of the state have been too dry, parts too wet,and other parts have had just adequate rainfall, she says.
Due mostly to the April freeze and alfalfa acres lost to corn, she expects to enter winter with below-normal inventories. “I think it's going to be fairly significant,” she says.
Prices are strong. Most N.A.M.A. members are charging 70-80¢ per relative feed value point as a base price, then adjusting up or down depending on the hay, she says.
Colorado — Quality seems to be an issue with Colorado hay, says Russ Travelute, officer in charge of the state's market reports. A fair amount has been put up, but some of it was weedy, he says. That hay will go to the beef cow market, currently paying $110-120/ton. Dairy-quality hay is selling for $150-160/ton,says Travelute.
Wyoming — In southeastern Wyoming, hay production will be down 25-30% because growers couldn't irrigate until late June, and hot weather hurt second and third cuttings. That's according to Barry McRea, owner of Valley Video Hay Markets, Torrington.
“Our dairy hay prices are running from $125 to $140/ton,” says McRea. “Our feeder hay is running around $100/ton right now.”
California — Prices for dairy-quality hay are $20-30/ton above year-ago levels for two reasons, reports Jack Getz, USDA Market News reporter for California, Washington, Idaho and Oregon. A tight supply is the main reason. But also, milk prices are high so dairies can afford to pay more than they did a year ago, says Getz.
California dairies can't import less-expensive hay from other states because supplies are tight throughout the West. On-farm prices for premium alfalfa are running $150-170/ton in the Sacramento Valley, $180-195/ton in the Central Valley and $130-160/ton in Pacific Northwest states.
Anyone interested in selling hay to Lisa Smit can contact her at 321-960-2305 or firstname.lastname@example.org.