Irrigating was definitely worthwhile during Idaho’s extremely dry 2012 hay-growing season, says Will Ricks, owner of RIC Farms LLC in Monteview.

“If you had irrigation, you had good crops,” says Ricks, also president of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association. “Dryland farms, though, had it pretty tough.”

Ricks had 1,200 irrigated acres in alfalfa hay this year. He packages hay in 3 x 4 x 8’ bales, and south-central Idaho dairies are his primary target market.

A shortfall in overall production pushed prices steadily upward as the growing season progressed. Currently, “any alfalfa hay that will test” is selling for $210-230/ton depending on quality, he says. That’s up by roughly $20-30/ton from the first-cutting price. Fairly heavy buying by Washington state export firms and improving milk prices are also keeping hay prices strong.

Dairy farm economics, Ricks predicts, will be the key factor determining where hay prices head over the next several months. “There’s still some healing going on in the dairy industry. As hay growers, we’re hoping that continues and things stay strong for years to come.”

Strong alfalfa seed sales have been reported in parts of the state this fall. Yet Ricks doesn’t look for Idaho alfalfa acres to rebound substantially in 2013. “We heard that there was a lot alfalfa planting going on last fall (2011), too,” he notes. “But a lot of acres were pulled out so people could plant wheat, corn and corn silage. As a result, we didn’t see a big increase in alfalfa acres this year. Now, wheat prices are strong again and a lot of guys are getting contracts. That could offset whatever is being planted to alfalfa.”

To contact Ricks, call 208-390-5012 or email w.ricks@yahoo.com.