Even at $300/ton – what one Illinois dairy producer and hay broker said he’d pay for dairy-quality alfalfa – don’t expect to find abundant supply in Idaho, says Rick Waitley.

Waitley, the Idaho Hay and Forage Association (IHFA) executive director, is used to getting hay-sourcing calls. But he can't help many people find hay this year; a weather-induced late start and a dry July and August crimped alfalfa production in many parts of his state. “Ordinarily, our dryland growers will get two cuttings per year. This year, though, it looks like a lot of them will only be getting one.”

The state’s irrigated growers, who typically take four cuttings a year, face similar problems. Dry, hot weather kicked in immediately following third-crop harvest. “The hot temperatures came at a time when the crop should have been recovering from the previous cutting. A lot of growers may not be getting a lot in the way of fourth crop.”

Supplies are so tight that, when asked for hay donations to livestock producers hit by range fires, he says members didn’t reply. “When this kind of thing has happened in the past, we usually get a pretty good response. That was very, very unusual.”

Growers with hay may be reluctant to put it on the market anytime soon, Waitley suspects. “They don’t want to get caught short and not be able to meet the needs of their existing customers next spring.”

More out-of-state buyers have been calling than at any other time in his 30 years in the business, says Scott Jackson, a hay broker and owner of A. Scott Jackson Trucking, Inc., in Jerome. Most of the calls come from Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

“Last year, people in those areas were moving a lot of hay to Texas and other parts of the South. This year, they need hay in their area.”

Getting a good handle on how much Idaho hay is going into inventory is difficult at best, Jackson adds. Like Waitley, he believes many growers are hanging onto supplies to ensure they can “take care of the people they have long-term relationships with,” he says.

Still, some out-of-region buyers have managed to locate supplies in Idaho this year. Brian Foss, a hay buyer and owner of Northern Plains Forage, LLC, in Volin, ND, recently brought several loads of good-quality horse hay in the Boise area for $190/ton.

Most years he restricts his buying activity to Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas.

“But this year, there just isn’t any kind of supply in this area,” says Foss, who sells most of what he buys to the equine market in Texas and other Southern states. “And the prices have really taken off. At the small hay auctions in our area, alfalfa in round-bale packages has been selling for around $300/ton. So that $190 Idaho hay is looking like a pretty good deal, even with the freight costs factored in.”

Currently, Jackson says, dairy-quality alfalfa hay in Idaho has been selling for around $190-200/ton at the farm, about $10/ton less than it was bringing a year ago.  “Overall, the test for milk-cow hay has been a little below average so far this year,” he says. “In recent weeks, we have seen prices in excess of $200/ton on the very nicest hay.”

For the long term, Jackson says the price outlook is uncertain at best. “A lot depends on what the corn price does. But the dairy situation will probably be the big thing. Milk prices have come up a little bit, but those guys have really gone through a tough time in the last couple of years. They just can’t afford to pay much more for hay.”

To contact Waitley, call 208-888-0988 or email rick@amgidaho.com. Jackson can be reached at 208-731-6000 or hayman@northrim.net, while Foss can be contacted at 605-760-4118 or northernplainsforage@hotmail.com.

For a story on Jackson's marketing methods, vist "Copter Commerce."