Alfalfa growers in parts of Kansas have been getting an extremely early jump on first-crop harvest. And they’ve been too busy to establish prices, reports Steve Hessman, reporter with USDA-Kansas Department of Agriculture Market News in Dodge City.

Growers in central and south-central Kansas were taking first cuttings in mid-April. “That’s about three to four weeks earlier than normal,” says Hessman. “A lot of it was because they were trying to manage for alfalfa weevils, not because they were trying to fill a contract for a waiting customer.”

Typically, he says, price negotiations between buyers and sellers are in full swing by the time hay harvest equipment gets rolling. This year, though, that hasn’t been the case. “We’ve heard a little bit about some new sales, but certainly not enough to call a market yet,” he says.

Several factors are likely at work. There is a fair amount of carryover, something that wasn’t forecast at the start of the winter feeding season. “Because we were expecting supplies to be short last fall, a lot of people decided early on to change their rations and substitute other roughages for hay.”

But a relatively mild winter kept roads open, allowing a lot of hay to move in from the north. “Livestock producers had already made their commitments for the other feeds, and they stayed with their original game plans. That decreased hay usage. Now the people holding the hay that was brought in don’t want to set a price on new crop until they get rid of what they have on hand.”

Tough times in the dairy industry could also be holding up new-crop contracts. “There’s a little bit of dairy hay being traded, but not that much. Even if dairies need hay, they’re just so strapped for cash that they’re not making any commitments.”

Once the harvest season gets going full swing, Hessman wouldn’t be surprised to see prices soften a bit. Last fall, supreme- and premium-quality hay averaged around $300/ton with a top of $350/ton. “We had some pretty good moisture in most of the state over the winter, and that has people hoping we’ll see more of a normal growing season this year than we had in 2011. If it turns hot and dry again, though, prices will head right back up.”

Hessman can be reached at 620-369-9311 or steve.hessman@kda.ks.gov.