Look for rising input costs to keep good-quality horse-hay prices on the high side in central Missouri in the year ahead, says Jeff O’Laughlin, Missouri Hay & Straw, LLC, near Ashland.

O’Laughlin puts up cool-season grass and alfalfa hay in small square bales. Recreational horse owners within a 300-mile radius of the farm are his primary market. About 60% of his horse hay is marketed as certified weed-free. He also sells to goat, sheep, cattle and alpaca owners.

For his best-quality hay this year, O’Laughlin figures he’ll need around $2 for every 10 lbs of hay to cover costs and realize a small profit. “Just a couple of years ago, it was closer to $1 per 10 lbs of bale weight,” he says. “The cost of everything – whether it’s insurance, chemicals, lime, fuel, tires or equipment repairs – just keeps going up and up.”

Potential customer reaction to price increases concerns him. “I emphasize quality over quantity. I work with people to get them to understand that buying good, quality hay can actually save them money because they won’t have to spend as much on grain or vet bills.

“But that only takes you so far. With things the way they are in the economy, a lot of horse owners just don’t have as much disposable income to spend on feed for their horses. Some try to deal with it by buying cheaper, lower-quality hay. Others are getting rid of their animals altogether.”

Land availability in the area is another concern. “We’re seeing more and more land that was in hayfields and pastures being converted to row crops. In turn, that’s driving up rental rates to the point where we have to cut back some on our hay acres this year.”

O’Laughlin can be contacted at 573-489-3595 or by email at missourihayandstraw@earthlink.net.