High-quality horse hay remains hard to come by in northern Ohio.
“We’ve been getting blind calls from people we’ve never heard from before,” says Thom Hornish, owner of Richfield Hay and Straw in Malinta. “They’re looking for anything they can find. The problem is there just isn’t hay in our area to sell.”
Hornish puts up 70-lb small square bales of alfalfa-orchardgrass on 240 acres, and also markets hay for several neighboring growers. He sells exclusively to the horse market on the Atlantic Coast. Altogether, he markets production from around 500 acres.
A production shortfall was the last thing Hornish was expecting when the 2012 haying season got under way. He started first cutting around May 17, a few weeks ahead of normal. With the early start, Hornish thought he may get five rather than his usual three or four cuttings. “Everybody here was enthusiastic. Prices were real good, and we all started cleaning out barns so that we’d have plenty of storage.
“Then the weather turned dry. We didn’t cut again until just this past week. Economically, it just wasn’t worth baling up what was out there. We had a local dairy that was short on feed come in and cut what would have been our second crop. They ended up getting about a quarter ton/acre.”
Hornish isn’t sure how to price the crop he’s putting up now. “Our goal is to just get it in the barn and see how it cures out. Then we’ll see where the market is and go from there.”
The weather was only slightly better 40 miles away at J.D. Russell Hay & Straw Inc., in Pemberville, OH. “Our yields for the first three cuttings have been less than half of what’s normal,” says owner John Russell, who puts up orchardgrass and alfalfa in small square bales on 450 acres. “It’s been a very different kind of year.”
Russell was starting his fourth crop last week. “That’s a little bit misleading,” he says. “Our second and third crops were so light that we just cut them to get them off the field and see if we could stimulate some growth. We’d put six windrows together and there just wasn’t anything there to bale.”
Like Hornish, Russell’s phone has been ringing steadily in recent weeks. “On some days, we’re getting 10 calls a day.”
With hay supplies as tight as they are, he expects prices to continue rising. What he’s put up so far will easily fetch at least $300/ton, he figures. “I have to get that for it. And even then it won’t be enough to make up for what we’ve lost in yields this year.”