Larry Brogan is waiting for his phone to ring. He's a hay grower and dealer who needs customers.
“We've got an enormous amount of hay, and we're not getting the calls on it that I think we should be getting,” says Brogan, of L.J. Hay, Hanoverton, OH (800-622-9902).
Despite a drier-than-normal summer in eastern Ohio, many hay barns are full, he says. Prices are already higher than they should be, given the supply. Buyers seem to be procrastinating, and some sellers are holding onto their hay, expecting much higher prices this winter.
“There's plenty of hay, and there's going to be plenty of hay, as far as I'm concerned,” says Brogan. “If somebody wanted 100 semi loads of whatever type of hay, I'd have no problem getting it.”
His situation may seem surprising. In October, USDA estimated that 2002 alfalfa production will be down 7% from that of last year. The Midwestern Region accounts for much of the shortfall, but production is down in other places, too. Overall, according to USDA, alfalfa yields are at or below last year's levels in all but seven states.
The perceived scarcity of high-quality alfalfa hay has some buyers paying sky-high prices. In dry Indiana, for example, the top hay-auction prices are over $200/ton.
But calls to Brogan and other sources in selected states reveal that high-quality hay is available over a wide area, and at prices that aren't off the charts.
“The hay is there,” concurs Don Kieffer, the National Hay Association's executive director. “It might not be where they're accustomed to buying it or at the same price levels. They're going to have to reach out a bit.”
At current milk price levels, paying the higher prices plus transportation costs may be more difficult than finding the hay.
“That's the problem,” says Kieffer. “Market conditions really don't allow them to do much shopping.”
Here are reports from growers, dealers, etc., in several other states:
New York — “There's quite a lot of hay for sale around the state,” reports grower Jack Niles of Manlius (315-682-2529). “It seems to be quite plentiful.”
In western New York where he farms, the 2002 haying season went fairly well.
“We didn't get a lot of second and third cut because it was dry, but the first cut was no problem,” says Niles. “We had a lot of that.”
He grows mostly alfalfa-timothy mixtures for the horse market. Hay that doesn't suit equine enthusiasts is sold to dairy producers.
“I'd like to start moving more dairy hay,” says Niles.
Prices, he adds, are roughly the same as they were last year — around $100/ton.
Nebraska — Dry weather statewide reduced yields by 20-30%, reports Barb Kinnan, marketing director for the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association (800-743-1649). But association members still have hay to sell.
“There's never enough dairy hay to go around,” she says. “But we do have ample supplies for the time being.”
So far, prices are running about at year-ago levels.
“I think as supplies diminish we'll see those prices increase,” she says. “Where we've seen a substantial price increase is in lower-quality hay.” The reason: Beef cattle feeding started much earlier than normal because of poor-quality pastures.
North Dakota — “We have a good supply of good-quality hay,” reports Cindy Gross of Gross Farms Alfalfa, Edinburgh (701-496-3371). “We've got more dairy-quality hay than we've had for quite a few years.”
Western North Dakota was very dry, but the eastern part of the state received timely rains.
“It came so that we were able to put up the majority of our hay without rain damage,” she says.
Prices are running slightly above year-ago levels, Gross adds.
“Milk prices are poor enough they can't afford to pay a whole lot more.”
Iowa — In mid-October, premium-quality hay was still selling for $60-65/ton in northeastern Iowa, says Bob Humpal of Fort Atkinson Hay (563-534-7513). Prices have risen by $10-20 since then, but supplies are ample.
That part of the state had an excellent growing season, says Humpal, a dealer and broker who also runs a weekly hay auction.
“You might say we've got hay coming out the ears,” he says. “There's a lot of nice hay out in the sheds, and some guys are waiting until winter to start moving it.”
Montana — “This area was blessed with a pretty decent summer and there was quite a lot of hay grown.”
Grower Joel Flynn (406-266-3578) is talking about irrigated alfalfa around Townsend, just south of Helena in west-central Montana. “The quality may not be quite what it could have been, but we're certainly average or above average in our hay crop,” he says.
Much of the lower-quality hay was shipped into drought-stricken areas of Wyoming and eastern Montana. But feeder-quality hay can still be found, plus growers have some dairy- and horse-quality hay for sale.
“An awful lot of third crop was put up here in the last month, and I'm sure a lot of that's still available,” says Flynn.
New Mexico — Compared with last year, less hay is available in southeastern New Mexico, where Dave Barrett farms. Yields were good, but light rain showers turned a lot of dairy-quality hay into dry cow hay, says Barrett, of Wayward Farms, Artesia (505-746-2927).
“The quality wasn't nearly as good as it was last year,” he reports.
Water was plentiful in his area, which has irrigation wells, but not farther south around Carlsbad, where growers irrigate out of the Pecos River. Some took one less cutting than usual because of reduced water allotments, Barrett reports.
On the other hand, an extra cutting was taken from some acres around Farmington in the northwestern corner of the state. So New Mexico's overall hay volume probably is at, or slightly below, normal.
Barrett, who mostly ships horse hay to Florida and elsewhere in the South, says much of the state's 2002 hay crop was sold before it was baled.
“Some will be for sale, but mostly the supply is going to be limited.”
California — Hay acreage is up 15% this year, resulting in increased supplies and lower prices than last year, says Seth Hoyt, a senior ag economist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“While the market is down from last year, prices on fair-quality, dry-cow alfalfa hay are higher than many people thought they would be,” he says.
In late October, that hay was bringing $75-90/ton. Supplies started to build in September, but much appeared to have been sold to in-state dairies by late October.
“We had fair-quality hay available for out-of-state buyers the past few months,” says Hoyt. “But if you start shipping $80/ton hay very far, it ends up costing you too much.”
According to him, California's growing dairy industry has helped hold hay prices up. For example, supreme alfalfa was selling for $125-150/ton in central and southern California late last month.
Idaho — “There is hay available in Idaho,” says Richard Larsen of Larsen Farms, Dubois (208-374-5660).
As in California, supplies are up and prices down, says Larsen, a grower and dealer who ships compressed bales to several Eastern states.
“I don't know how much of a surplus we have, but prices have been fairly weak all year,” he says. “Quite a bit of first- and second-cutting hay sold for between $70 and $75. That's about $25 less than it was a year ago. Very high-testing third cutting is bringing $110.”
Most of Larsen's own hay is committed. “But if anybody wants hay, we'll buy some and sell it to them.”