Reports of armyworm activity “just a county or two away” have New York hay grower Phil Saunders on edge. At about this time last year, a major infestation of the worms ravaged 400 acres of timothy hay he put up on his Sugar Creek Farm near Dansville, in western New York.

“Usually, we’ll put up somewhere around 28,000 (small square) bales a year,” he says. “But with the (armyworm) problems last year, our production was closer to 20,000 bales. Once they get into a field, they just destroy the hay. They start at the top and work their way down. And when they’re done, there’s nothing left at all. I’m praying they’re not heading this way again.”

If they don’t invade, Saunders expects good production in 2013. “We had a pretty mild winter, and the hay is looking good. We’re just waiting to get a few days in a row of good drying weather so we can start in on cutting.”

Prices should stay “on the strong side” in the months ahead, says Saunders, who works with several brokers to market largely to horse-hay markets up and down the East Coast. Last year, he sold most of his hay at $300/ton, with several loads as high as $325.

“A lot of hay ground around here has been plowed up for corn and soybeans, and that’s true in other parts of the country as well. Until that ground comes back into production, the hay supply is going to be low. That will be good for prices.”

The grower routinely includes a storage charge of $20-30/ton for customers who can’t take immediate delivery of their hay. “Some of the hay we sold last summer and fall didn’t leave here until April.” He has three facilities with a total storage capacity of more than 70,000 bales.

“Hay is no different than any other commodity.  When you take a load of corn to the bin at the local elevator and it’s not sold immediately, you pay a storage charge. It’s something more hay growers should think about doing,” Saunders says.

To contact him, call 585-370-7301 or email haygrower@rocketmail.com.

Read more about pests:

Armyworms Attack Missouri Hay

Blue Alfalfa Aphid Outbreak Baffles Scientists

Time To Scout For Alfalfa Weevil?

Grass Pest Damaging Southern Hayfields