Plentiful late-summer and early autumn rainfall set back overall 2013 alfalfa production in California’s Palo Verde Valley, reports grower Tom Crook, of Desert Sun Farming near Blythe.

“August and September are when we can get some monsoon rains here,” says Crook, also a board member for the California Alfalfa and Forage Association. “Sometimes we get them, sometimes we don’t. This year, we got a lot more rain than usual.”

The wet spell forced Crook to delay cutting his fifth crop by three weeks or so. For the year, he’ll only get seven cuttings compared to the eight to eight-and-a-half he gets most years.

Crook bales three-tie small squares and 3 x 4’ large squares on 8,000 flood-irrigated alfalfa acres. Typically, roughly 40% of the farm’s production is earmarked for retail stores serving horse owners in California, New Mexico and Arizona. The rest of the production is split equally between the export and dairy markets.

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This year, nearly all his fifth cutting was feeder quality. A large supply of that kind of hay in the region softened prices to $130/ton, down $30-40/ton from that of a year ago.

Prices for good horse hay in the retail feed stores have also backed off in recent months. Alfalfa-grass hay is bringing $160-180/ton, down roughly $20/ton from year-earlier prices.

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For premium-quality dairy and export hay, sellers are getting $200-210/ton, down by about $10/ton. Slack demand is the major factor. “Dairy producers in our market area seem to be buying only what they need to fill the feed bunk,” says Crook. “They’re not putting anything into storage.”

Alfalfa is also facing stiff competition from other feedstuffs. “Corn prices are down, so dairy producers are feeding more of that. They’re also feeding other things like almond hulls and citrus pulp that are readily available. They’re doing whatever they can to cheapen their rations.”

To contact Crook, call 760-922-0231 or email

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