While hay growers in many parts of the country may find it hard to believe this year, there can be such a thing as too much rain. Just ask Chep Gauntt, Kennewick, WA.
“We’ve had a fair amount of rain so far this season, and that’s forced us to space out our cutting schedule,” says Gauntt, who, along with his son, Drex, grows alfalfa on 1,000 irrigated acres. “We haven’t had a lot of rain at any one time. It’s been half an inch here and there – just enough to keep us from baling when we would like to bale.”
That reduced yields on first and second cuttings by about 15% from average, Gauntt estimates. “As for quality, we’ve been able to put up some good hay. But I wouldn’t call it spectacular.”
Along with 4 x 4 x 8’ square bales, the Gauntts usually put up three-string, 135-lb bales favored by export firms, the primary market for their 2012 alfalfa crops.
“They bring a premium from the export buyers, but we haven’t been able to make them so far this year because of the rain. We’ve had to get on and off the field in a hurry, so we’ve put up everything in the large squares. The price is lower than it would be for the three-strings, but it’s better than what you’d get for feeder hay.”
Currently, premium-quality alfalfa in three-string bales is bringing around $240-250/ton. Large squares are bringing around $230. Both prices are similar to year-ago prices.
“I think the price is going to increase,” says Gauntt. “Some of the exporters might be holding off a little bit right now. They remember 2008 when they got caught with some big inventories of high-priced hay. But the supply isn’t there this year. Higher prices could sneak up on people.”
A cooler spring and wet harvest have challenged Western alfalfa growers, agrees Anderson Hay & Grain Co., Inc., an Ellensburg, WA, exporter of hay and straw products.
In Washington, about half of the second-cutting alfalfa has received rain, according to the company’s blog. “Since weather forecasts have called for intermittent rain, growers delayed cutting. The fields that are still standing are becoming mature.”
Idaho alfalfa growers were contending with thunderstorms and high humidity at the end of July, which led to bleaching of hay, the blog adds. Oregon’s grass-straw harvest was under way. “Early indications throughout the area are that yields are down in the Willamette Valley. The cooler spring weather we had earlier this year may have had an effect on the tonnages that will be available. With less than half of the fields baled, we have some work to do in getting final numbers in. We will report tonnages once the process is complete.”