“The price of alfalfa hay has just gone through the roof,” says Dan Putnam of $320/ton and higher delivered prices for first cutting coming out of the Imperial Valley to dairies in the Central Valley.

“It’s been phenomenal. I don’t think hay growers in Imperial have ever seen prices this high,” the University of California Extension forage specialist says.

Hay supplies are tight across the central part of the state, according to USDA’s California Weekly Hay Report, and that’s forcing some dairies around Tulare, Visalia, Hanford and Bakersfield to pay as high as $335-345/ton prices for new hay brought in.

California dairies, just climbing out of financial holes after the 2008 crash, don’t need this kind of news, Putnam says. “The dairies are going to have a hard time with this. Hay acreage is already down and then, with all these other attractive crops (including corn, wheat and cotton), there’s not a lot of hay acreage going in. There’s going to be a continual price squeeze for dairies. For the hay growers, they’re going to love it, at least temporarily.”

Very high hay prices aren’t good for hay growers either, he adds, because buyers can’t afford to pay those prices for long and learn how to balance rations with less hay.

Seth Hoyt says those high prices are “not realistic” in his March 18 issue of The Hoyt Report. “But it won’t change until we get more supplies,” he says. Hoyt predicts that supreme alfalfa hay in the Imperial Valley will drop back to the $220-225 level as first cutting commences in the central part of the state.

“Prices should moderate as the first harvest comes off in the bigger production areas in the San Joaquin Valley,” Putnam agrees. But the weather hasn’t been cooperating, with 60-mph winds and driving, cold rain, plus the threat of flooding, slowing alfalfa production.

The USDA report agrees: “As of Thursday (March 24), some parts of the central region have received as much as 3” of rain with potential for more the latter part of the week. As many fields have a canopy of growth already, it will take some time for the ground to dry out enough for production to begin again.”