Halfway through this winter’s sales season, buyer and seller traffic at quality-tested hay auctions in the Upper Midwest has been normal to down slightly compared to that of a year ago.

Sales volume and buyer attendance at the company’s twice-monthly tested auctions so far this winter have been just 80-85% that of the past several years, says Randy Kath, hay and livestock specialist for Steffes Auctioneers in Litchfield, MN. The key factor is an abundance of hay, especially lower-quality hay, in the region.

“It was just an incredible summer for making hay,” he says. “We also had a pretty mild fall, so livestock producers were able to keep their animals out on pastures longer and didn’t have to feed a lot of hay. That built up the inventory heading into the winter. In northern Minnesota and North Dakota, it’s hard to drive five miles without stumbling over a hay bale.”

The supply situation is reflected in auction prices, Kath adds. “For top-quality dairy hay, the price is real close to what it was a year ago, settling in at around 85-90¢ per point of relative feed value (RFV). Where you really see the effect is with rained-on alfalfa and grass hay. Last year, we hardly ever sold anything for less than $90-100/ton. This year, we’ve struggled to make $65-70/ton on that kind of hay.”

A little farther north in the state, the volume of hay moving through the Stearns County, MN, tested auctions looks to be on pace with that of recent years. Good numbers of buyers have been turning out, reports Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension educator for Benton, Stearns and Morrison counties. The twice-a-month sales are conducted by the Mid-American Auction Co. in Sauk Centre.

Average alfalfa hay prices at the late December and early January sales were down slightly from year-earlier prices, Martens says. Hay with an RFV of 176-200 was bringing $140-150/ton, while hay testing 151-175 RFV was $120-130/ton. For hay in the 126- to 150-RFV range, the price was $100-110/ton, with nicer loads bringing $120 or better.

“You have to keep in mind that those are average prices,” says Martens. “Within a given range for lab-test results, you’re going to have some variation of quality. A few lower-quality loads can bring down the average.”

Martens wouldn’t be surprised to see prices for higher-quality alfalfa hay improve over the next several months. “We’ve seen a slight strengthening of the milk price. If that continues, dairy farmers will be more likely to open up checkbooks and pay better prices for hay. The better-quality hay is definitely going to be in demand.”

In Wisconsin, the number of buyers and sellers has been comparable to other years at the Dodge County Forage Council’s twice-monthly tested auctions in Beaver Dam this winter, reports Matt Hanson, University of Wisconsin (UW) Extension crops and soils agent for Dodge County.

Top seller among the 10 lots of hay offered at the Feb. 1 auction was a load of 132-RFV alfalfa, packaged in large square bales. The selling price was $142/ton. The average selling price for the six lots of alfalfa sold was $113/ton; the average RFV was 114. “So far this season, we’ve been staying right around that $1 per point level,” he says.

One seller at last week’s sale opted not to sell a load of alfalfa square bales testing 170 RFV when his minimum sale price of $75/bale (865 lbs) wasn’t met, Hanson adds. “My hunch is that he figured the demand for high-quality hay is going to increase as the winter goes along, and that he’ll be able to move it later at a better price. And he just might be right. From what we’ve seen at the auctions so far, there’s a lot of hay around. But the quality has been noticeably off from what we’ve seen the last couple of years.”

In nearby Waldo, WI, buyer attendance at the Sheboygan County Forage Council’s monthly tested-hay auction has been comparable to recent years’ attendance. But the amount of hay delivered for sale has dropped off sharply.

“We only had four lots at each of our first two sales (December and January),” says Mike Ballweg, UW Extension crop and soils agent in the county. “We’re not really sure what the reason is. It could be that people are growing less hay because grain prices have been high. Or it might just be because there are fewer dairies in the area. Traditionally, a lot of the sellers at our sale were dairy farmers who brought in any extra hay they had.”

The top January-sale price was $150/ton for a load of alfalfa (medium square bales) testing 122 RFV. Average price per point of RFV at the sale was $1.28. “With these kinds of limited sales, it’s difficult to get a good read on price trends,” says Ballweg. “But prices were similar at the December auction. Considering the quality of the hay we’ve been seeing, the prices have actually been pretty good.”

For more information, contact:

Steffes Auctioneers, Litchfield, MN, 320-693-9371. See auction results.

Stearns County, Mid-American Auction facility, Sauk Centre, MN, 320-547-2206. See auction results.

Sheboygan County Forage Council, Chissy’s Pub & Grill, Waldo, WI, 920-459-5904. See auction results.

Dodge County Forage Council, Beaver Dam Auction Market, Beaver Dam, WI, 920-386-3790 or 414-333-8625. See auction results.