The volume of hay moving through Mike and Julie Hamilton’s Madison County Ag Auction, near Alton, IL, has been picking up in recent weeks. “We’re seeing a lot more hay coming in than I was anticipating for this late in the season,” says Mike Hamilton. “A lot of the local guys called us in late December and told us they were done, that their barns were empty. We’re coming off of a drought, and production was way down last year.”

Since then, the weekly auction has been pulling a fair amount of hay out of Iowa and Wisconsin. “A lot of people were thinking that hay supplies were going to be tight at the end of the winter, so they were hanging onto it with the idea that prices would go higher,” says Hamilton. “But we’ve had a fairly open winter, and there’s been less usage than people were anticipating. Now the people who have hay are cleaning their barns out. There are a lot of round bales moving.”

At a Feb. 25 sale, nearly 280 tons of hay were sold. At the auction’s final February sale a year ago, a little more than 65 tons of hay went.

But even with this year’s higher volume, prices for premium-quality alfalfa and high-quality alfalfa-orchardgrass hay have held fairly firm. At the end of 2011, small squares of alfalfa weighing 50-60 lbs were bringing $12/bale. Medium squares (3 x 3 x 8’) weighing 800 lbs were fetching $130-150/bale.

“Prices dropped off a little after the first of the year, but now they’re getting back to where they were a few months ago.”

There’s room for prices to move even higher between now and first cutting, Hamilton says. “The really good-quality alfalfa is getting harder to find each week. Typically, dairy producers are looking for an RFV of 170-180. In recent weeks, though, we’ve been moving a lot of hay in that 130-140 range. I had one dairyman tell me that he’d be willing to take anything that was green and in a bale. We could see a price spike within the next month or so.”

The Hamiltons’ hay and straw auctions are held each Saturday from December through the first Saturday in April. All sales begin at 11 a.m. Call 618-410-4293 or email hamilton6822@sbcglobal.net.