Alfalfa growers in Washington State’s Mid-Columbia Basin wonder if winterkill will be a problem heading into spring. Since mid-December, they’ve had several stints of extremely cold weather.

“A couple of times now, we’ve had two to three days in a row where our nighttime temperatures have dropped below zero,” says Jim Goff, an alfalfa grower from Warden, WA. “One night, we had 12 below. That’s pretty unusual for us. The concern is that, up until just recently, we haven’t been getting much in the way of snow. We’ll just have to wait and see how that affects the crop.”

Alfalfa prices in the region have remained fairly steady throughout the winter, reports Goff, who is also president of the Mid-Columbia Basin Hay Growers Association (MCBHGA). He markets hay in 3 x 4 x 8’ bales to exporting firms and local beef feedyards and sells 90-lb small squares to local horse owners.

Goff sold most of his large square bale inventory last fall. For his premium alfalfa, the price was $220/ton at the stack, down $10-20 from what he was getting a year earlier. “The demand from exporters in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t as strong as it had been. It’s getting harder and harder for them to compete with California because of differences in shipping rates.” (See “High Freight Costs Hinder Northwestern Hay Exports.”)

Prices for small squares of alfalfa in his area have remained strong; they’re currently at $240-250/ton. “That’s about the same as it was a year ago at this time. The demand from horse owners is still pretty good.”

However, timothy hay will get plenty of attention at MCBHGA’s 2014 annual meeting, slated for tomorrow, Feb. 19, at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, WA.

“A lot of growers in our area are looking at growing timothy for the first time this year,” says Goff. “The thinking is that there might be more demand for it out of the Pacific Northwest ports than there will be for alfalfa.”

The annual meeting educational topics appear to reflect that thinking. Topics will include: timothy growth, development and production, nitrogen fertility in the grass and rotations following timothy.

To contact Goff, call 509-989-1070.

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