Prices for dairy-quality alfalfa in Michigan look as though they’ll stay on the high side in 2012 and perhaps beyond, says Jerry Lindquist, grazing and crop management field specialist with Michigan State University Extension in Osceola County.

Dairy-quality crop topped $200/ton – and went as high as $280/ton – in most of the state this winter, Lindquist notes. That’s due to strong demand in and out of the state, as well as low 2011 production mostly caused by wet harvest weather in June and fewer acres being planted.

According to USDA’s Prospective Plantings report in late March, hay acres in the state are likely to decrease again this year. “It’s the corn impact,” says Lindquist. “When farmers start working on their budgets, it’s pretty clear that corn and soybeans are looking more profitable than hay.”

Low carryover supplies of top-quality dairy hay coming out of winter will add to the upward pressure on prices. “We still have a fair amount of lower-quality grass hay in round bales in many areas, but the good-quality stuff is all gone.”

This year’s unusual spring weather in many parts of the state could also come into play. After a 10-day stretch of exceptionally warm temperatures in early to mid-March, the weather turned cool and dry. During the last two weeks of April, several nights of frost stung the alfalfa crop around the state. “It set things back a little bit, but it could have been worse,” says Lindquist.

Even so, many Michigan growers will be harvesting first-crop alfalfa several weeks earlier than normal, he believes. “Right now it’s shaping up as one of those springs where overall quality will be higher, but quantity could be lower.

“Based on hay acres alone, there’s going to be less hay in the state this year. That means prices will likely at least stay the same or maybe even climb higher if we get poor weather.”

To contact Lindquist, call 231-832-6139 or email lindquis@msu.edu.