Hurricane Sandy caused a few hiccups and headaches for hay buyers and sellers in the eastern U.S. last week. But regional sources contacted by eHay Weekly on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 say things could have been much worse overall.

New York hay dealers Chris and Donna Oliver kept busy just ahead of the storm’s arrival last Monday, Oct. 28, filling orders for livestock producers and horse owners scrambling to lay in hay supplies. The Olivers own DBA Hay Express in Burke.

“People were thinking they’d be out of hay sometime during, or right after, the storm, so they were calling all over the place to find a supply,” says Chris Oliver. “That happens anytime there’s a big weather event, like a hurricane or a big winter snowstorm. People hear the news reports about what’s coming and realize they’re down to their last four or five bales of hay. They want to do something to make sure they don’t get caught short.

“We managed to take care of everybody and get back home Sunday night just before the storm hit. Then we settled in and waited things out. By late Wednesday night, we were ready to head out again to make deliveries,” he adds.

The couple buy hay from 20-30 area farmers for resale to feed stores and individual horse owners in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. During a typical year, they market 90,000-100,000 small square bales weighing 40-45 lbs each.

To date, business in 2012 has been “awesome,” Oliver says. “Around here, you wouldn’t know there’s an economic slowdown. For the entire year, we’re just two loads shy of shipping out an average 10 loads/month. That’s as well as we’ve ever done.”

Strong prices, brought on mostly by an area production shortfall in 2012, have accompanied the positive number of sales. Currently, the Olivers have been charging $8.50/bale for smaller deliveries of second-cutting grass hay and $7 for each full semi-load. For first-cutting hay, they’ve been getting $6/bale for full loads and $7/bale for smaller loads.

In Maryland, the 6-8” of rain that fell within 36 hours as a result of Hurricane Sandy prematurely ended the state’s hay-harvest season. “We had some good weather the week before the hurricane hit, and there was still some hay being made,” says Les Vough, University of Maryland Extension emeritus forage specialist. “But, for the most part, that’s done now. From this point on, we just won’t have the radiation intensity we need to get hay dry.”

That could put pressure on state supplies and prices of high-quality hay in months ahead. “We have an adequate supply of average- and mediocre-quality hay,” says Vough. “Between a drought in some areas and nuisance rains that made it difficult to put up hay in a timely fashion in other places, we’re very short on high-quality hay.

“If we have a mild winter like we did last year, we should be okay. But a normal winter, with a lot of cold and snowfall, will pressure the market.”

If there was a silver lining to last week’s storm, he says, it was that things could have been worse. “We didn’t get as much rain in most areas as they had predicted. And it came slowly enough that a lot of it went into the ground. We didn’t have as much flooding as forecast.”

That means livestock producers shouldn’t have to worry about grazing pastures and causing much damage. “The ground in a lot of areas is pretty well saturated. But if people keep their animals spread out for a week or so, things should be getting back to normal fairly quickly.”

Away from the coastal areas, Vough adds, power outages have been the primary issue. Some areas, mostly in western Maryland, were expecting to be without power for a week or more.

At the Oct. 31 Rushville Hay Auction in Harrisonburg, VA, storms associated with Sandy likely helped limit the volume of hay offered for sale, says auction owner Tom Weaver.

Typically, 20-30 loads of hay move through the auction at this time of year. Last week, only 10 loads were on the block. “We had just enough rain so that some of our farmers weren’t able to get their hay loaded in time to bring it into the auction,” he says. “Overall, though, we were spared from the worst of the storm.”

Prices at Rushville and another auction Weaver operates in Staunton, VA, have held steady in recent weeks. “We haven’t seen anything real high or anything real low for awhile,” he says.

Ordinary mixed-grass hay in large round bales weighing 700-850 lbs each has been bringing $25-35/bale. Round bales of higher-end grass hay, orchardgrass or grass-alfalfa mixes have been fetching $100-120/ton, while square bales of top-quality alfalfa have been bringing $200/ton. Across the board, per-ton prices are off by $10-15, while per-bale prices are off $5-10 from the start of the summer. “There seems to be plenty of hay out there locally,” says Weaver. “Some local farmers were able to take five or even six cuttings. That’s pretty unusual.”

Even so, he wouldn’t be surprised to see prices moving higher in a few months. “They should hold for awhile. But if we get a cold and snowy winter, like the Almanac is predicting we will, dairy and beef farmers will have to feed more hay. It seems like that happens a lot in January and February every year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to if it’s that way this year, too.”

Contact Oliver at 518-335-9787 (cell) or 888-429-3977 (office), Vough at 301-405-1322 or Weaver at 540-435-0020.