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Tough hay season in Columbia Basin

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

A leading West Coast hay exporter says the Columbia Basin produced its worst quality Timothy hay in memory because of rain and delay. He says alfalfa wasn't much better.

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — It’s been the worst season in recent memory in the Columbia Basin for the quality of Timothy hay and nearly the same for alfalfa, a major West Coast hay exporter says.

Rain damaged hay and delays in harvest because of rain took their toll on first- and second-cutting Timothy, said Mark Anderson, president and CEO of Anderson Hay & Grain Co. in Ellensburg.

Second-cutting Timothy harvest ended about four weeks later than normal and premium Timothy for export is in short supply, Anderson said.

“June and September were not friendly haying months,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of middle and low-end quality.”

Only about 30 percent of second-cutting was No. 1 in quality. In a good year it could be double that, he said.

More Timothy will be sold for domestic feeder hay at prices as low as $80 a ton while top quality export Timothy has reached $300 and more, he said.

A lot of Northwest Timothy is exported to Japan and South Korea. The exact amount this year will depend on how much lesser quality buyers take, Anderson said.

Buyers in those countries will turn to domestic grass hay, Australian oat hay and sudan grass hay out of California’s Imperial Valley as alternatives, he said. Timothy in Alberta, Canada, is another option but is limited in volume, he said.

Alfalfa also was hit hard by weather, resulting in three instead of four cuttings in parts of the Columbia Basin and a flat market, Anderson said.

Foreign importers are shopping the U.S. West Coast for the best prices on alfalfa, he said.

“They don’t have open checkbooks for best quality. It’s more price-buyer mentality,” he said.

“It’s been a year where most farmers just want it to be over,” said Mark Charlton, a Kittitas Timothy grower.

Hay was not totally ruined but rains and delay in harvest took away color, he said. He finished second-cutting the middle week of October, one of his latest.

He said he sold 90 percent of his first-cutting as export and hopes 50 to 60 percent of his second-cutting makes it. It’s just not No. 1 grade, he said. He will gross 15 to 20 percent less than he should, he said.

Shawn Clausen, a Warden alfalfa grower, said 2007 was a wetter first-cutting but that this year was wetter over all cuttings. Only his second cutting escaped, he said.

“About 70 percent of my total went up with damage,” he said, adding he still hopes to do a little better than break-even. Growers should weather the bad year because of high prices the previous two years, he said

He finished baling fourth-cutting on Oct. 7 and normally is done Oct. 1, he said. Some were still trying to put up hay Oct. 24, but some of it may go to green chop, he said.

Despite poorer quality, most is getting sold for domestic cattle, dairy and export, he said. There won’t be as much feeder hay as people think, he said.


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