Hay prices in John Atkinson’s marketing area have risen by nearly 75% since last April, when he sent out an annual customer newsletter announcing what he’d charge for his product in 2012. Even so, Atkinson has no plans to make price adjustments.

“I always set my prices at the start of the year based on what my input costs are,” says Atkinson, who grows bromegrass hay on 75 acres near Kingdom City, MO. He markets most of the hay in small square bales to horse owners within 50 miles of his farm. “What I didn’t know at the start of this year was that my production would only be about 70% of normal due to all the dry weather.”

Atkinson’s marketing philosophy centers on retaining good customers. In a typical year, repeats make up around 80% of his business, he figures. “My goal is to build a clientele that trusts me and feels like they’re being treated fairly. If I were to raise my prices unexpectedly to reflect current market conditions, it could easily destroy the confidence that it took me five years to build up with those customers. You have to think long-term in this kind of business.”

Hay supplies in the state are light while demand is good and prices are steady, according to the Sept. 21 report from the Missouri Department of Agriculture-USDA Market News in Jefferson City. With recent rains, some livestock producers have been able to cut back or stop feeding for the time being (see specialists’ recommendations on saving grass pasture in another article in this issue, “Feed Hay In Fall, Stockpile Grass For Winter”). However, many producers are struggling to find hay supplies for the coming winter feeding season.

“Hay movement has been very heavy over the last couple of weeks with hay coming from both the north and south,” reads the market report. “It is nearly impossible to spend more than a few minutes driving down any major highway without meeting a load or two of hay.”

Good-quality, mixed-grass hay in Missouri has been selling for $100-190/ton in recent weeks. Premium alfalfa hay, with 170-185 RFV, has been fetching $175-275/ton, while CRP hay has been bringing $60-80/ton.

People looking for hay will want to check out current listings on the Missouri Department of Agriculture online haylist. Missouri hay sellers can list their hay here.

To contact Atkinson, call 573-592-7239 or email atkinsonj@socket.net.