Following several late March-early April rainstorms, the 2013 alfalfa hay harvesting season was under way in earnest in many parts of California’s expansive Central Valley last week.

“A few growers were able to get some hay put up before the Easter weekend,” reports Norm Beach, vice-president of San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association in Tracy. “But then the storms rolled in and everything pretty much came to a halt. Last week, we had some windy days that helped dry things out. Just about everybody was able to get into the field to do some cutting.”

Early season prices are running slightly behind last year’s. “We’ve seen some sales of nice, premium hay at $250/ton,” he says. “Last year, we started out at $270/ton.”

Continuing financial struggles for state dairy producers explain the price falloff. “It’s the only thing holding the market back right now. Dairy farmers just don’t have the capital to pay any more for hay than they’re paying.”

Alfalfa acreage in the state is about the same as it was last year, Beach notes. “If the milk price starts inching up, hay prices will follow suit. Supplies are extremely short.”

Alfalfa stands throughout the region are starting out the season in fairly good shape. “We had a dry winter. So we haven’t had a lot of nematode problems. We did get hit with weevils in some areas, but people have been out spraying and getting things under control.”

To contact Beach, call 209-610-9568 or email haynorm@sbcglobal.net.

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