Midwestern dairy producers looking for top-quality alfalfa hay before the winter feeding season are likely to find supplies nearly as tight as they were a year ago. Even so, prices have softened a shade.

That’s the general consensus of representatives from major hay-marketing groups exhibiting at last week’s World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI.

“For most hay in our area, prices are off at least $50/ton compared to a year ago,” says hay grower Amy Freeburg of Freeburg Hay Co., in Gayville, SD. She was part of a contingent of producers staffing the National Hay Association (NHA) exhibit. “For the really good hay, though, the price hasn’t dropped off that much. There’s just so little of it available.”

Compared to previous years, more Minnesota and Wisconsin dairy producers managing 50- to 75-cow herds stopped by NHA’s booth this year. “A lot of them have always fed only their own hay,” says Freeburg. “But this year, so much acreage over here was hit by winterkill. So now they’re in the market. Most are looking to buy a load or two.”

Many of those producers, she adds, aren’t necessarily interested in top-quality alfalfa hay. “They realize they have other options for balancing their rations efficiently. They don’t necessarily want or need cream-of-the-crop alfalfa.”

Corn silage is one option that dairy producers in the region are likely turning to this year, says Barb Kinnan, executive director of the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association. “The people stopping by the booth told us there’s a lot of it being chopped in the Upper Midwest this fall. That could take away some of their hay needs.”

Currently, premium-quality alfalfa hay in Nebraska is bringing anywhere from $200-$280/ton at the stack, she reports. “It’s going for a little less than it was last year, but it’s still holding pretty strong. You can still find some of that very good-quality hay available in the state, but not all that much. If a lot of the weather forecasters are right and we have a typical winter, what little there is will go in a hurry.”

The story is different for low- to mid-quality hay in the state. There’s plenty of it around for as low as $130/ton, says Kinnan.

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The situation is much the same in neighboring Wyoming, according to Donn Randall, crop and forage program manager with the Wyoming Business Council. “Overall, we have a pretty good supply of hay,” he says. “But we’re not seeing anywhere near the quality of hay we saw last year because of how wet it’s been.”

Hay prices, as a result, have backed off – but only $20-40/ton from last year’s drought-driven highs. Top-quality alfalfa in the state is bringing $260-280/ton at the stack, while middle-grade alfalfa is selling for $220-240.  “For most growers, that’s still a pretty good price.”

He characterizes this year’s expo traffic to the Wyoming exhibit as “extremely heavy. The people coming into the tent this year weren’t casual shoppers. They were serious buyers.”

Dairy producers he visited with also appeared to be more upbeat this year. “Last year, feed prices were just so high, it was hard for people to stay optimistic. Now, the corn and soybean prices are coming down a bit.  Even the dairy producers who grow those crops seem to view that as a good thing. The big question on everybody’s minds now is how will that affect the hay price?”

To contact Amy Freeburg, call 605-267-4426 or email freeburghay@iw.net. Barb Kinnan can be reached at 800-743-1649 or nebalf@cozadtel.net. Contact Donn Randall at 307-777-6578 or donn.randall@wyo.gov.

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