While down significantly from last year’s record-high levels, prices at regularly scheduled hay auctions in the Midwest have mostly held steady so far this fall.

But auction owners and managers interviewed for this report offer mixed views as to where the market might be headed.

In recent weeks, the volume of hay coming through the Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association weekly hay auction has been down slightly from what it was a year ago, reports market manager Greg Cummings. “But we have had a fair amount of buyers at each sale.”

All cuttings of large square bales of alfalfa hay have been selling in the $200-300/ton range, with better-quality hay bringing $250-300.  Nice grass hay square bales have been bringing $200-250/ton. “It’s about the same as it was a year ago at this time, ” says Cummings. His Reedsville, WI, auctions are held on Thursdays, starting at noon.

Milk prices will play a big part in determining where hay prices head from here, he says. “We’re in the dairy country here. If the milk price stays where it is, the hay price will stay where it is. The dairy guys can’t afford to pay too much more for hay. They’ll feed other stuff if the hay price gets too crazy.”

At the same time, Cummings isn’t expecting any major price drop in the near future. “There’s still a big demand for good dry hay. We’ve heard some reports of hay being delivered into this area at $325/ton from out West. That should hold the price up here locally.”

Large squares of premium-quality alfalfa hay are also selling in the $250-300/ton range at the Fort Atkinson Hay weekly sale, held Wednesdays, at 1 p.m., in Ft. Atkinson, IA. “Over the past several weeks, we have seen a little selling at over $300/ton on occasion,” says auction owner Carl Shirk. “But, for the most part, prices have been pretty steady all summer and fall.”

While auction attendance has been “pretty good,” the volume of hay coming in is down compared to last year’s, Shirk notes. “All of the real good hay has been put away for winter selling.”

Good-to-fair-quality alfalfa has been selling for $180-200/ton. “There is more of that kind of hay available,” he says.

Round bales of grass hay have been consistently bringing $110-130/ton. “A week ago, we had a load sell for $150/ton. But I think that was a case of a few guys who needed to fill out a load (and were) bidding against each other.”

High-quality alfalfa prices should move higher as the winter progresses, Shirk says. “There isn’t a lot of that kind of real good hay around, and the supply will be running pretty short as we get into the spring. That will put the pressure on prices. On the other hand, we won’t see much of a change in prices for lower-quality hay.”

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“A little less” hay has been moving through the Dakota Hay Auction weekly sale as compared to what was sold there a year earlier.

“There just isn’t as much demand from local buyers,” says Willy Groeneweg, owner of the Corsica, SD, auction held 1 p.m. on Mondays. “Most people have more hay on hand than they did a year ago.”

In recent weeks, good-to-fair-quality, first-cutting alfalfa in large round bales has been bringing $115/ton. Second and third cuttings have been selling for around $145/ton. Round bales of premium alfalfa hay for dairies have been fetching $150. Those prices are down $100-150/ton from what they were a year ago, according to Groeneweg.

Grass hay prices have also fallen off, by roughly $100/ton, from last year’s levels. At recent sales, round bales of good grass hay have been bringing $100-130/ton, with a top of $140. Poorer-quality grass hay has been selling for around $40/ton less. “It’s a lot different from last year when we had a load of cattail hay sell for $110/ton and some CRP hay that sold for as high as $170/ton.”

The market may be close to a bottom, Groeneweg believes. “I think it has about leveled out. We’re starting to get some calls from Minnesota and northwestern Iowa, areas where they had a lot of winterkill problems. They’re starting to need the hay. If we get a lot of snow early, the market will move higher right now.”

A lack of high-quality hay, due mostly to a wet growing season, has kept upside pressure on prices throughout fall at the Wednesday hay sales held at 10 a.m. in Mt. Hope, OH. “Prices now aren’t quite as high as they were this past spring,” says Mt. Hope Auction co-owner Thurman Mullet. “But they are running about the same as they were a year ago at this time. And there is a premium for the good hay, especially with the horse people.”

One recent sale of third and fourth cuttings of straight alfalfa, packaged in small square bales, brought as much as $450/ton. “For anything good that was just not wet, sellers were getting $300/ton and up.“

At the same sale, small squares of second cutting, alfalfa-grass hay sold for $270-410/ton. Large round and square bales ranged from $80 to $270/ton.

With corn prices dropping, Mullet is surprised at the strength of the market so far. “People have some choices other than buying hay,” he says. “That’s likely to temper prices some. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

For more information, contact: Equity Cooperative at 920-754-4361 or gcummings@equitycoop.com, Fort Atkinson Hay at 563-534-7513 or forthay@acegroup.cc, Dakota Hay Auction at 605-770-0662 or dakotahayauction@yahoo.com and Mt. Hope Auction at 330-674-6188 or thurman@mthopeauction.com.

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