State hay supplies are on the low side, but the price of dairy-quality alfalfa in Idaho has remained relatively flat over the last few months, reports Glenn Shewmaker, University of Idaho Extension forage specialist.

Ongoing financial struggles for many of the state’s dairy producers help explain prices.

Dairy producers and their nutritionists are finding there’s still some room in rations to replace alfalfa with other feed ingredients, especially corn,” says Shewmaker. “Corn prices remain high. But when it comes to delivering energy on a cost-per-pound-of-nutrient basis, it’s still cheaper than hay.”

Currently, most dairy alfalfa is selling for around $200/ton. That’s a drop of $20-25/ton from prices of a year ago. Feeder-quality alfalfa is fetching as much as $195/ton. “It’s not much of a spread,” he says.

Even at these prices, alfalfa remains a profitable crop for most growers. The big question now, Shewmaker says, is whether prices are strong enough to draw more acres into alfalfa production after several years of decline. Last year, Idaho growers devoted 1.1 million acres to the crop.

“I keep expecting that we’ll restore some acreage,” he says. “But, right now, prices for other crops are still pretty good. Malt barley is competitive with wheat, for example. I don’t think we’ll lose any more acres of alfalfa. It’s more likely that acreage will stay steady.”

In most parts of the state, he adds, the alfalfa crop appears to have come through the winter in good shape. “Last year, we were pretty dry heading into the winter, and we lost quite a few acres to winterkill problems. This winter, though, we’ve had decent snow cover in most areas, enough that we should be okay. And, while we’ve had steady cold, we haven’t had real extreme cold.”

To contact Shewmaker, call 208-423-6678 or email gshew@uidaho.edu.

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