Drought takes toll on hay prices

Sep 28, 2012

By the end of 2012, alfalfa hay production will drop 16 percent compared with the previous year, the lowest level since 1953, according to USDA’s August report. Total hay production will likely total 120 million tons, an 8.4 percent drop from 131 million tons last year.

Mid-September saw hay prices continuing their climb in some areas, but demand was beginning to taper off as producers looked for alternate feeding options or sold off parts of their herds.

According to USDA, drought conditions now cover 63 percent of the nation.

To help ease the load for farmers and ranchers struggling through the drought, many states are offering various forms of drought relief. For example, the Wyoming Department of Transportation is waiving the $50 oversize-load fees on Class D permits for shipments of hay coming into the state. The waiver will continue until the drought disaster designations expire or until Dec. 31, when conditions will be reevaluated. While the fee waiver does not apply to weights, it is a bonus for the loads of hay moving across state lines.

The National Climatic Data Center reports the spring and summer of 2012 has been the warmest and driest April-through-July stretch in Missouri during the last 118 years. Many central Missouri cattlemen have been feeding hay since June. But their leftover hay stored from previous years is quickly running out, with a long winter looming in just a few months.

Missouri is one of several states where the highway medians have been opened by the departments of transportation for farmers to cut and bale hay.

The shortage of hay and soaring prices are also wreaking havoc on hobby farms, including horse owners. In addition, animal rescue operations are seeing a boom in abandoned animals.

One rescue operation in Michigan told local reporters that they receive up to five calls a day from people needing to give up their horses.

The rescue is maxed on horses, and said that most of the horses in their care were relinquished due to owners not being able to find hay to feed the animals or not being able to afford the high cost of hay.

Hay theft is also up across the states. Despite the weight of large square bales, thieves around Fort Collins, CO, have hit several times, most recently stealing $5,000 worth while hot wiring heavy farm equipment to move it.


In California, all classes of hay traded mostly steady in all regions. Good alfalfa was selling from $208-220, with premium alfalfa reaching $255. Demand was good for all classes of hay with very light trade activity. Trading throughout the state is slow as many producers are continuing to elect to put hay in storage. Producers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys noted the slow growth due to low temperatures. Retail/stable hay trade remains firm on limited overall supplies.

In Colorado, hay prices are steady to firm. In northeast Colorado, large squares of supreme alfalfa were selling for $230-260 with some instances as high as $350. Good to premium alfalfa was at $200-225, and fair to good at $190-200. Small squares of premium grass were selling for $350-450 or $10-14 per bale. In the mountains, small squares of premium grass were selling for $275-300, or $8-9 per bale. Hay movement continues to be slow as some buyers have moved outside their normal marketing areas to fulfill forage needs.

However, yields are down nationally as well as locally with USDA’a National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasting U.S. alfalfa production at 54.9 million tons, 16 percent lower than a year ago and 20 percent lower than the five-year average. Cooler weather has moved into Colorado, bringing some much needed moisture and some light frost to the high country.

In Texas, hay prices were steady to firm. In the Panhandle, good to premium alfalfa sold for $330-360 or $10-11 per bale. In south Texas, small squares of premium Coastal Bermuda were selling for $230-265, or $7-8 per bale; fair to good was at $165-230, or $5-7 per bale. Large rounds were at $110- 140, or $70-80 per roll for premium and $55-60 for good quality. Movement continues to be light to moderate under fairly light demand. Large parts of the state received scattered rain showers and cooler temperatures the last couple weeks. The rains helped grasslands and crops but soil moisture levels remain short to very short in many of the drought areas. However, these rain showers should improve the possibilities of another cutting and bailing of Coastal Bermuda hay before fall.

In Montana, hay prices were firm. Good to Premium small squares were at $225- 250, large bales were at $195- 265, with fair to good large bales at $150-180. Good to premium small squares of Timothy were selling for $235-250. Conservation Reserve Program grass hay was selling at $120-140, with the majority of it going out of state. Trade activity was light to moderate. Demand was very good for all classes. Ranchers are opting to hold on to additional hay supplies as the majority prepare for winter. Farmers and ranchers have concerns about supplemental feeding supplies, and these concerns carry into next hay season. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor