Transporting hay out of the relatively hay-rich Northern Plains to supply-short areas of Kansas and Oklahoma continues to be a challenge for hay buyers.

“We’ve heard several reports of people having difficulty lining up trucking after working out agreements to purchase loads,” says Jack Carson, market reporter for the USDA-Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Market News in Oklahoma City. “The demand (for trucks) has been extremely high in many places and that’s created a shortage in some areas.”

“There still appears to be a plentiful supply of hay up north,” adds Steve Hessman, Carson’s Market News colleague in Dodge City, KS. “The problem is finding enough trucks to get that hay down here.”

Some would-be hay buyers in the region may have held off on lining up trucking earlier in the year, thinking that once grain harvest ended, more local trucks would be available to send north, Hessman says. “What they’ve found instead is that, while there are plenty of people willing to haul around hay locally for a neighbor, most aren’t very interested in making long hauls. They just don’t want to be on the road for four, five or six days a week.”

Limited backhauls could also be playing a role. “All through the summer and fall, the oilfields in places like North Dakota, Wyoming and parts of Canada were going great guns,” says Hessman. “Truckers were able to haul a load of oilfield supplies up north, then arrange to bring a load of hay back in this direction.

“Now, with the winter coming on, the activity in the oilfields seems to be slowing down a bit. There aren’t as many backhauls available. Truckers don’t like to deadhead. They want runs where they have loads in both directions.”

As a result, more buyers are paying full freight rates to bring in hay. Right now that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $4-4.25/loaded mile. Earlier this year, when backhauls were plentiful, Hessman heard of rates as low as $1.75/loaded mile. “And buyers are also having to go farther afield to find hay. The supply in Nebraska has all but run out, and it’s getting to that point in southern South Dakota as well. The longer the haul, the higher the freight cost.”

Brandon Drinnon of Drinnon Hay in Taloga, OK, says a dwindling supply of large square bales in Northern states could also help explain the fall-off in truck availability.

“From the reports I’ve heard, there’s still a fair amount of round-bale hay left in that part of the country, but the square bales have pretty much been cleaned out,” says Drinnon, who runs a fleet of seven drop-deck rigs as a companion enterprise to his hay grower-dealer businesses. “We’re still hauling several loads a week out of North Dakota. But a lot of the oilfield trucks just don’t want to bother with round bales.”

Drinnon also sees signs that the demand for trucks is slacking off in his area. “It was extremely busy during the summer and early fall. Some weeks, we could have hauled 100 loads. A lot of that was local, hauling from one neighbor to the next. Now we’re down to hauling 20 loads a week.”

Winter weather poses another major concern for buyers. “Last year at this time it was all but impossible to get at the hay supplies in North Dakota,” notes Hessman. “We’re not at that point yet this year, but eventually we will be. As long as the roads stay open, hay will keep moving.”

Contact Hessman at 620-227-8881, Carson at 405-522-3752 or Drinnon at 580-328-5635.