With the start of first-crop harvest a month to six weeks away in most of Montana, hay supplies remain “critically short” throughout, reports Erika Sorenson, market reporter for USDA’s Market News.

“The brokers and growers I talk to tell me they’ve exhausted their own supplies and can’t find it elsewhere in the country,” says Sorenson, who covers hay industry developments in Montana out of a USDA office in Sioux Falls, SD. “We’ve been seeing quite a few loads coming out of Canada. That’s what’s keeping everybody going right now.”

Last year’s drought and resulting production shortfall has played a big role in the supply side crunch. An unusually late spring, keeping livestock producers from turning animals out on pasture, has added to supply pressure. Cold weather and lack of moisture has some alfalfa producers concerned about winterkill and a possible reduction in yields for the harvest season ahead.

Hay-for-sale postings on the state Department of Agriculture’s Montana Hay Hotline have fallen off sharply, adds Sorenson. “There’s only been two new listings added in the last several weeks and, in both instances, the amount being offered is very light. There are a lot more listings in the hay-wanted section.”

With trade so limited, Sorenson says it’s all but impossible to get a handle on what prices are being paid for hay. “I would assume that good-quality alfalfa is bringing a minimum of $200 (f.o.b.). That’s about what we were seeing in late March and early April, before the trade was exhausted. Add freight on top of that and it will eat up your pocketbook.”

To contact Sorenson, call 605-372-8350 or email Erika.sorenson@ams.usda.gov.

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