Idaho hay growers fight unpredictable weather
By John O’Connell
INKOM, Idaho — During a brief break from his alfalfa harvest on Sept. 17, Jim Guthrie said he expects this will be his best yielding third cutting ever.
But with storm clouds looming on the horizon, the McCammon, Idaho, farmer and rancher acknowledged the risky timing of his harvest, which he’d already pushed back 10 days, hoping for a window of dry weather.
Due to rain damage and delayed harvests, sources within the feed industry say there’s now a shortage of premium hay, and ample supplies of lower-quality alfalfa are softening prices of feeder hay.
“We’re glad to have the extra yield, but it takes a little longer on the drying time. I think (the weather) is a little iffy,” Guthrie said. “But it gets to a point where you’ve got to get it cut and take a chance.”
During a recent trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, Guthrie said he saw several fields along the way in which multiple rain storms had fallen on cut alfalfa.
Idaho Hay and Forage Association President Will Ricks, of Monteview, started harvesting his third cutting on Sept. 17 after a week-long weather delay. Ricks said delays could affect protein and quality, and several growers have already reported rain on their cut alfalfa.
“The weather has been a real challenge,” said Ricks, who anticipates an average-yielding third crop.
Dryland alfalfa grower Lynn Anderson, of Arbon Valley, Idaho, recently finished harvesting his second cutting. He had to turn the alfalfa due to moisture from a couple of storms. He’d hoped recent storms would make a third cutting possible, but it now appears that frost will strike his region too soon.
Hay market analyst Seth Hoyt said that in spite of ongoing drought conditions, rain has seemed to come at the wrong time in Idaho with each cutting.
“Weather has caused a lot of problems, and not just on the third cutting,” Hoyt said. “Some (growers) have held off on the fourth cutting in Magic Valley and southwest because of rain. In eastern Idaho, some of the third cutting has been rained on.”
As a result of this season’s weather challenges, Hoyt said some dairies have resorted to buying mixed quality hay lots. As for hay growers, he explained they’ve lost stronger dairy-quality hay prices, and are selling low-end hay in a market that has begun to soften during the past few weeks.
Hoyt said supreme quality hay, if it can be found, is selling for $225 to $235 per ton, compared with feeder hay at $160 to $175 per ton.
“There’s definitely not going to be enough of that higher test hay,” Hoyt said.