With dry weather severely crimping production in western South Dakota and parts of neighboring states, demand for new-crop hay is strong. It’s likely to stay that way for some time, reports grower Art Walker of Walker Farms near Fruitdale.

“I’ve already been getting a lot of calls from local guys wanting to lock up their hay supplies for this year,” says Walker. He puts up alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay on 300 acres. Of that total, 200 acres are under irrigation. Ranches and horse owners are the primary market for his big round bales.

The stretch of dry weather affecting the region dates back to last fall. “We had very little snowpack all through the winter, and it’s been dry ever since. Everybody is kind of burning up.”

Production on dryland acres has been particularly hard hit. “A lot of it just isn’t worth cutting. We had one quarter-section where we only put up 30 acres. It started out pretty well. But when it got up to about 6” tall, it just quit growing.”

Walker’s irrigated acres fared slightly better during first-crop harvest, with an average yield of 2.5 tons/acre. He ordinarily gets about 3 tons/acre. Second crop is looking a little better, but only because he’s “had the pivots running non-stop for the last couple of weeks.”

Alfalfa weevils haven’t helped production. “We can have some weevil problems every year, but it seems like it’s worse in dry years.”

On the demand side, Walker notes that many cattle producers in the region have been building their herds. “A lot of people sold all the hay they had last year. Now they have slightly larger herds, but there’s less grass and hay around.”

As a result, he expects hay prices to move higher as the season progresses. He’s been offered $110/ton on some first crop, but didn’t take it. “For now, I’m planning to just put whatever I harvest into the stack and see what happens. Our weather forecast isn’t getting any better. We’re getting daytime highs in the high 80s and low 90s, and the wind is blowing hard every day. Later this summer, hay could easily go for $110-150/ton depending on the quality and the grass content. And at that price, it’s still likely to be some of the cheapest hay in the country.”

To contact Walker, call 605-580-5741 or email ajwfruitdale@yahoo.com.