Soggy fields have kept some Midwestern growers from getting hay to market, according to local auction owners. Buyers, in the meantime, are running out of hay as wet, cold conditions have delayed pasture growth and first-crop hay. The outcome, of course: Higher hay prices.

“There’s still some hay out there. But with all the wet weather, a lot of fields are still pretty soft. People haven’t been able to get to the hay that’s sitting out there and bring it into the auction.” So reports auctioneer Fred Walz, of Walz Auction Services in St. Augusta, MN.

Prices overall were up 5-10% at Walz’ April 20 hay auction in Clear Lake compared to what hay went for the month before.

A load of grass hay, in large square bales weighing 800-900 lbs, took top sale price at $210/bale at the April auction. “It was nice, green hay, and it smelled good,” says Walz.

Small squares of grass hay, weighing 45-50 lbs each, sold for an average of $7.10/bale, while small round bales of grass hay were bringing $67.50-87.50/bale.

Even marginal-quality hay was bringing a good price. A load of two-year-old meadow hay, in small squares, went for $5/bale. “It’s the kind of thing that happens when you have a short supply, high demand and a lot of buyers on hand like we did at the April sale,” notes Walz. His phone continues to ring off the hook with calls from buyers desperately seeking supplies.

Hay prices are also high at the every-Friday hay sales conducted by Tim Slack Auction & Realty, LLC, Fennimore, WI. “Over the last month or so, we’ve been seeing prices move up every week,” says auctioneer Tim Slack. “The place has been packed with buyers. We’ve had 100-150 people in here for each sale, and we’ve been getting five or six new buyers in each week.”

Many buyers have been holding off on buying, hoping that pastures will green up before they run out of hay, Slack believes. “They’ll come one week, shake their heads at the prices and not buy anything. Then they’ll come back the next week and find that prices have gone up another $30-40/ton.”

At Slack’s April 19 sale, large squares of supreme-quality alfalfa went for $377.50/ton, an auction record. A load of grass round bales brought $355/ton, also a record. Some good alfalfa rounds sold for $350/ton.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. “A year ago, the price here topped out at $275/ton. It’s all about low supply and high demand. Everybody and their brother has either run out of hay or is running out of hay. There simply isn’t any feed around.”

Temperatures warmed this past weekend, and clear skies were forecast for parts of the Midwest this week. But Slack says prices are likely to continue pushing upward.

“Things have started to green up a little, but nothing is really growing yet. We’re probably still a good two weeks away from being able to get any animals out on pasture. At the Fort Atkinson (Iowa) auction yesterday (April 24), hay hit $400/ton. We’ll see that here within the next week or two.”

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Rain, snow and mud on sale days limited the number of loads moving through mid-April hay auctions at Rock Valley Hay in Rock Valley, IA.

“The weather conditions made it nearly impossible to move any hay around,” says auction owner Paul McGill. Mud and frozen bales, as well as poor road conditions, hindered sellers.

Only 17 loads were sold at Rock Valley’s April 22 auction. “Volume usually drops off at the Monday sale when we get to this time in April. But that was really light,” he says. “Normally, we’ll have 30-40 loads for our last Monday sale of the season.”

The hay prices paid at that sale showed buyers were getting desperate. “It was a panic sale,” he adds. “We had round bales of corn stalks selling for $120-127.50/ton. And round bales of grass hay were selling mostly in the $190-250/ton range with one load selling for $375/ton. That was an all-time record for us. It was just one load, not the market. But it gives a hint of just how tight supplies are and how strong demand is.”

With some favorable weather, volume did rebound at last Thursday’s (April 25) auction. “We had 68 loads go through, which is more typical of our Thursday sales this time of year,” says McGill. “Hay prices were still on the strong side. And we had one load of straw, in 3 x 4’ bales, sell for $170/ton. That was another record for us.”

He expects hay prices in the region to stay “very strong” until new crop starts coming on. “At that point anything could happen. The normal trend is for the market to dip in late May or early June with the arrival of new crop.

“One point to keep in mind, though, is that hay sellers this year have gotten used to these very high prices. Throw in the fact that it looks like hay acreage is also pretty low, it’s going to be hard through much of the summer to get sellers to let go of any hay at drastically reduced prices. They’re just not real hungry right now.”

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