Hay is in high demand in southwestern Minnesota, according to Kevin Nelson, owner of Nelson Hay Company, Hadley. "Prices have been up and the local markets have really picked up in the last week," he states. "Poorer-quality hay is bringing more money than in previous years." In addition to supplying his regular horse-hay customers, Nelson has been getting more requests from Texas. "I have enough inventory to keep my regular customers supplied, but we are moving into a hay shortage overall in this area now," he says.

Southwestern Minnesota was having a mild winter with very little snow until February and March. A storm last week dumped 15" in Nelson's area. "The weather has made it difficult to get hay loaded and delivered," he says. Timely rains helped make last year a good production year for Nelson. "We had a drought in July and a smaller third crop, but then we got some rain and the fourth crop made up for it," he explains. "We are going to need some timely rains this spring to get us off to a good start because we have been short on moisture."

Nelson expects high corn and soybean prices to entice some Minnesota farmers to convert away from hay this year. He contracts around 35% of the hay he sells, and has had some customers asking to set up contracts earlier than usual. "Anyone who is familiar with the agricultural situation is worrying that hay prices are going to go up and they want to make sure they have their hay contracted in advance," he says. He is planning to promote his hay for the fifth year in a row at the Minnesota Horse Expo in St. Paul in April. He also maintains a Web site and sends customers regular email newsletters with updates on hay supply and demand.

The Pipestone Hay Auction, held at the Pipestone Livestock Auction Market near Nelson's farm, sold 63 loads of hay and straw last Tuesday. Small square alfalfa bales brought $87.50-115/ton; large squares, $95-110/ton. Round bales of good-quality alfalfa brought $80-97.50/ton.

Small square bales of premium-quality grass hay sold for $102.50/ton, while round bales of grass hay ranged from $62.50 to $97.50/ton. Mixed hay brought $80-112.50/ton in round bales; $82.50/ton in large squares. The Pipestone Hay Auction is held at 11 a.m., Central Time, on Tuesdays, year round.

Southeastern Minnesota also enjoyed a mild winter well into December, reports Lisa Behnken, University of Minnesota extension educator, Rochester. "We got some snow in January, then it turned very cold in February and now we have lots of snow," she says. Hay producers in southeastern Minnesota had good tonnage in 2006. The hay season started about 1 1/2 weeks earlier than usual and most growers were able to take four cuttings without a problem. "We had been dry at the beginning of last year and then it got better," Behnken reports.

Learn more about the Pipestone Hay Auction at www.pipestonelivestock.com/hay-straw.html, or call the Pipestone Livestock Auction Market at 507-825-3306. Contact Kevin Nelson via email at nelsonhayco@myclearwave.net, call him at 507-836-6181, or visit www.nelsonhayco.com/.

Ohio's winter was mild and rainy through late January, then turned cold, according to Mark Sulc, Ohio State University agronomist. "We had a week of very cold temperatures without snow cover and time will tell about the outcome," he says. "I'm not expecting any significant winterkill problems with the perennial forages, but I am concerned about Italian ryegrass that people may have used for a cover crop or forage." The snow and ice from storms in February had melted in much of the state. Very early forages like winter rye will probably start greening up and growing in parts of Ohio in the next week or so, Sulc says.

Contact Sulc at 614-292-9084.