Idaho alfalfa hay prices will rise or fall in 2014 based largely on how much irrigation water will be available during the growing season, says Glenn Shewmaker, forage specialist with University of Idaho Extension.

“Right now, a lot of our reservoirs are empty or nearly empty,” he notes. “If we don’t get near- or above-normal precipitation this winter and spring and the serious drought continues, hay prices could take off. There just isn’t going to be much hay available.”

A bump up in alfalfa acreage this year wouldn’t surprise Shewmaker now that corn and wheat prices have moved lower. “It could lead more growers to alfalfa. The price for it has softened some in recent months, but it hasn’t nosedived like the corn price has.”

At the very least, a continuing drought would convince some growers to leave existing alfalfa stands in place for another year. “And a lot of growers see alfalfa as a drought insurance crop. The key is whether they can get adequate water to get it established.”

As the year ended, dairy-quality alfalfa hay in the state was selling for around $190/ton, off $25-35/ton from last spring’s highs. At the other end of the quality spectrum, rained-on hay was bringing $155/ton.

Shewmaker can be contacted at 208-423-6678 or gshew@uidaho.edu.

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