A spot check of regularly scheduled, Midwestern hay auctions shows hay prices have backed off steadily the past several weeks. The key factor: An increase in the regional supply brought on by the arrival of good haymaking weather.

Prices have definitely trended downward the past month or so at Rock Valley Hay Auction in Rock Valley, IA, reports auction owner Paul McGill.

“There’s been a lot of hay available – both alfalfa and grass – at the last couple of auctions,” he says. “It’s something we’re not used to, given what’s been going on for the last year or so. As a result, the market is continuing to move lower across the board.”

Rock Valley Hay holds Thursday auctions from May through October.  From November through April, the auction offers twice-weekly sales.

Most alfalfa hay was bringing $125-165/ton at the July 1 auction, held early to accommodate the July 4 holiday. The top-selling load brought $205/ton. At the same sale, most grass hay was selling in the $120-140 range, with a top of $170/ton and a bottom of $105. “Compared to a month ago, alfalfa prices are about $100 lower, while grass hay is off by about $80/ton.”

McGill’s been somewhat surprised by the relatively narrow trading range of alfalfa. “Only $20-25/ton separates the best-quality hay from average quality. Usually, you’d expect a bigger spread than that. My guess is that the spread will increase. The question is whether the price for the better hay is going to go up or the price on the lower-quality stuff is going to drop.”

Looking ahead, he believes the alfalfa market in the region may be close to settling; grass hay prices could continue to drift downward for several more weeks. “We’re getting into a more normal seasonal pattern. The trade will likely slow down over the next few months, then pick up again in the fall. Sellers have been making some money with their new-crop hay. Now, they’ll be content to sit back and wait a little while they figure out where the market is headed.“

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Prices have also been dropping the past several weeks at Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association’s Friday hay sales in Lomira, WI.

A month ago, alfalfa there was routinely bringing $350/ton, with some sales topping out at more than $400/ton. The past several weeks, though, the price dropped back to the $220-280/ton range. The weather is finally starting to dry out, says auction manager Leo Amend, “so people have been able to get out and get some first crop put up.”

Buyer attendance has dropped off in recent weeks, Amend notes. “Those who are coming in are looking for the real quality hay,” he says. “A month ago, you could put about anything out there and it would sell at a real good price. Now people are being a little more choosey.”

Good grass hay is selling for $150-190/ton. “That’s still a pretty good price for this time of year. Some people had trouble with rain during first cutting. Now, they’re feeding up their rained-on first-crop hay and putting the good-quality hay they’re buying into the barn. People are planning ahead more. They don’t want to get caught short like they did last year.”

To contact McGill, call 712-470-1274 or email paulmcgill67@hotmail.com. Amend can be reached at 608-434-4030 or lamend@equitycoop.com.

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