The start of the haying season in Bill Collier’s part of Alabama is roughly a month away. But the phone has been ringing frequently the last few weeks at his Coldor Farms near Auburn. “A lot of people are already looking to buy hay,” he says. “They don’t realize that it has to grow first.”

Collier grows three varieties of bermudagrass – Russell, Coastal and Tifton 44 – on 150 acres. Most years, he packages a large share of his production in 4 x 5' round bales and the remainder in small squares. Last year most of his hay went to commercial beef operations in his area. He was sold out by late November.

This year’s crop is off to a good start. “We had a pretty mild winter and the grass was putting out in January,” says Collier. “We’ve also had a decent amount of rain. We normally start cutting the first or second week of May, but it might be a little earlier than that this year.”

Even so, local hay supplies could still be tight in the year ahead, says Collier. He notes that some area growers have plowed up hay ground to plant soybeans. Beef producers are starting to back away from putting up their own perennial-peanut hay because that can be hard on harvesting equipment. “I just don’t see any kind of increase for hay acres in this area coming anytime soon.”

Rising input costs, particularly fuel and fertilizer, will also likely help push hay prices higher. Last year, Collier charged $45/roll for large rounds weighing about 1,100 lbs. He expects the price to go up $5-10/roll this year. “If the customer wants to pick it up in the field right after we bale, we’ll offer a discount. It saves us money if we don’t have to move it two or three times before we sell it.

“We might hear some people complain about our prices going up, but the rising cost of inputs is just one of those things we really can’t do much about. If you’re going to be in farming, you need to understand that.”

Collier can be contacted at 334-332-3191 or billcollier@att.net.