Heavy rainfall and flooding earlier this month in Colorado’s Front Range, in the central part of the state, brought the regional hay trade to a near standstill.
“A lot of growers haven’t been able to get out into their fields or to their stacks to move hay,” reports Tess Norvell, market reporter with the Colorado Department of Agriculture-USDA Market News, based in Greeley. “We have some cornfields in our immediate area where you can’t even see the tassels on the corn because they’re under water.”
The rain caught many alfalfa growers as they were wrapping up third cutting. “There wasn’t a lot of high-test hay that got put up right,” says Norvell, adding that a fourth cutting is now unlikely for many growers. “Some of it got rained on, and with the high humidity, a lot of it got bleached out or streaked. There’s going to be a lot of low-quality hay available for the grinder market.”
Hay grower Don Leonard, of Don’s Hay Service in Brush, was able to finish third-cut alfalfa just before rain moved in. “In our case, we only got about an inch of rain, so that part wasn’t so bad, ” he says. “The flooding has been more of a problem.”
Leonard moved 100 tons of alfalfa hay from a field bordering the Platte River to higher ground to get ahead of flooding that started 100 miles from his farm headquarters. “It took us about six hours using two loaders and a truck,” he notes.
Washed-out roadways and bridges throughout the region have been more worrisome. For several days, Leonard had to delay hay deliveries to a feedlot customer 100 miles from his farm. He also debated how to transfer back haying equipment from fields 60 miles from the farm.
“We’re hoping to get going on fourth cutting here at home as soon as things dry out a little,” he says. “But we’re running out of time. The toughest thing has been getting good information about where the roads are open and where they’re not. We really don’t know how far out of the way we might have to travel to get to machinery and move it back here.”
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The flooding’s impact on hay ground was more direct for Mike and Dalton Schuppe of Schuppe Hay Farms LLC, near Iliff. Typically, the Schuppes bale medium and large square bales from 800 acres of alfalfa and 600-700 acres of grass hay, marketing to dairies and beef feedlots.
Four days after storms swept through the region, several of their fields, located along the South Platte River, were flooded. Two alfalfa fields totaling 210 acres, an 85-acre grass field and a 250-acre cornfield ended up under water.
“At its deepest point, the water was 4-5’ deep,” says Dalton Schuppe. “On average, it was an easy 2’ deep. It was half way up the tires on the sprinklers.”
The big question now, says Schuppe, is how long it will take for floodwaters to recede. They plan to start their fourth cutting of alfalfa in a week or so. “If that water stays on the alfalfa any length of time, it will kill the hay. We won’t be able to do anything about it. We’ll just have to start over on that ground.”
The flooded grass hayfield “might be stunted a bit, but it will be okay,” he says.
How local hay markets might be affected in the weeks to come is anybody’s guess, says market reporter Norvell. Large supplies of grinder hay, coupled with improved pasture conditions following widespread rainfall at the end of July, had been holding hay prices down even before the September weather intervened.
Right now, premium-quality hay in the Greeley area, where many of the state’s dairies are located, is bringing $230-240/ton at the stack. “In general, prices are weaker than they were a year ago,” she says.
While the market for dairy hay could step up a bit after the first snowfall or hard freeze, Norvell doesn’t think prices will reach last winter’s extreme levels. Then, some supreme hay sold for $300/ton or more.
“Overall demand has come off. We just don’t have as many cows in this country as we did a year ago. There’s also softness with corn prices, and there are a lot of alternative forages for livestock producers to feed. Corn stalks are cheap, and straw is cheaper.”
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