Strong demand for high-quality hay among local horse owners has left Utah alfalfa grower Darryl Lehmitz in an unusual position for this time of year. He’s all sold out.

“In most years, we’re selling hay year-round,” he says. “This year, though, we shipped the last of our hay on Nov. 10.”

Lehmitz puts up 65- to 70-lb small square bales of alfalfa hay on 80 irrigated acres near West Jordan. His primary market: recreational horse owners within 20 miles of the farm.

A shortfall in local production, due mostly to dry weather early in the growing season, is behind the demand, he says. “It seems like it’s been more intense this year. Because of the drought situation, people have been trying to get their hay bought earlier than usual so they don’t have to pay higher prices later on. I guess you could call it a panic-buying mentality.”

Fewer growers in the region are putting up small square bales that many horse owners favor, he adds. “It all adds up to a lower supply.”

All of his 2012 production sold for $7.50/bale, up about 50¢/bale from the previous year’s price. “I probably could have got a little more for it by waiting. But I figured I should take a good price while it was there. Also, this way I don’t have to worry about weather damage (to hay) through the winter months.”

At the same time, Lehmitz doesn’t think there’s room for prices to move much higher even with short supplies. “I think we’re kind of hitting a ceiling on how much horse owners are able to pay. Some people have had to sell their horses because they just can’t afford to feed them.”

To contact Lehmitz, call 801-280-3679 or email darryllehmitz@yahoo.com.