West Coast hay-exporting firms continue to do brisk business. According to U.S. Department of Commerce numbers, the volume of hay leaving ports in the Pacific Northwest and California for overseas destinations was up by 10% through the first six months of 2012 compared to a similar period the previous year.
“We’re coming off a very strong summer for sales,” says Adam Lyerly of El Toro Export, LLC, in El Centro, CA. “Buyers in China were pretty aggressive early on, and buying on the part of the U.A.E (United Arab Emirates) picked up as we got into the summer. There’s also been what I’d call ‘normal demand’ for Japan and Korea.”
The strong demand helped keep prices for export alfalfa high throughout the summer. But a supply shortfall, due mostly to quirky midsummer weather in southeastern California and western Arizona, also played a role.
“Typically, they’ll get just one or two thunderstorms in those areas during all of July and August. This year, though, there was a rain event about once a week during those months. The result was that, while there was a lot of hay put up, the supply of exportable hay was shorter than normal.”
Farther north, rainy weather in the Columbia River Basin and the Kittitas Valley at key points during the growing season created similar problems for exporters in central Washington. “We definitely have more demand than we have hay right now,” says Rollie Bernth, president of Ward Rugh, Inc., Ellensburg, WA.
Bernth’s company supplies high-quality alfalfa and timothy hay to horse and dairy buyers in Japan. “With all the rain, we didn’t have the volume of high-quality hay we ordinarily have. We had to scrounge to get enough for our horse customers. And we saw a lot of our dairy customers buying lower grades than they normally would. There really wasn’t enough of that to go around, either. We hope it’s a trend that doesn’t continue.”
For the months ahead, Bernth expects overseas markets for U.S. alfalfa and timothy hay to remain strong. “There’s no oversupply of hay anywhere, so I don’t think lack of demand is likely to be an issue.”