In a dramatic turnaround from 2011, a statewide hay-production shortfall has Wyoming livestock producers, hay growers and dealers scrambling to line up hay supplies, reports Donn Randall.

“It’s really been night and day,” says Randall, crop and forage program manager for the Wyoming Business Council’s Agribusiness Division. “Last year it seemed like everyone had a lot more hay than they needed. But the growers and dealers who were shipping so much hay to the drought areas (primarily Texas and Oklahoma) last year are the ones looking for hay now. We’ve been getting a lot of calls over the last couple weeks from people wondering where hay might be available.”

Many irrigated-alfalfa growers were caught off guard by the unusually early spring, says Randall. “Alfalfa came out of dormancy a lot earlier than normal. But the growers never got those spring snowstorms we normally get. They kept waiting and waiting and then ended up being late with their irrigation water. We also had a couple of frosts that set the crop back. As a result, first-crop production was down by 20-30% in many parts of the state.”

The supply situation is unlikely to improve as the season progresses. In eastern Wyoming, irrigated growers on the Ogallala Aquifer quit watering alfalfa as of late July. In north-central Wyoming near Riverton, some growers were forced to shut off their irrigation water as of mid-July.

Dryland hay growers are especially struggling. “They’ve had absolutely nothing for rainfall,” Randall says.

According to USDA’s Aug. 10 Crop Production report, Wyoming’s production of alfalfa and alfalfa-mix hay is expected to total 1.26 million tons this year, down from 1.5 million in 2011. Production of other hay in the state is forecast at 560,000 tons, down from 800,000 tons last year.

Randall’s heard reports of some alfalfa-grass hay being shipped in from North Dakota and southern Alberta. “You can buy round bales of good cow hay for $40/ton. But the trucking cost is prohibitive. By the time you get it here, the price can easily be somewhere around $200/ton.”

To contact Randall, call 307-777-6578 or email donn.randall@wyo.gov.

Randall and other forage experts talked about forage supplies in the just-published August issue of Hay & Forage Grower, in the story, “Drought Dampens Forage Prospects.”