Winter kill higher than normal, prices expected to climb
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
DECLO, Idaho -- A cool spring has Idaho's hay crop behind schedule by 10 days to three weeks, depending on the location, farmers say.
His hay should be knee high by now, Wayne Hurst of Declo, Idaho, said last week, but it wasn't even half that tall.
"The hay crop looks good; it's just a little behind normal," he said.
Growers in his area usually start cutting between May 15 and 20, but that'll be delayed two weeks, he said.
Precipitation is well above normal and water in the upper Snake River looks good, a plus for irrigators, he said. But the cool, cloudy days aren't helping the crop.
It's definitely a late, cool spring, Filer, Idaho, hay grower Clark Kauffman said. And hay supplies are already short.
"There's just no hay," he said. "I could have sold another 200 tons of just horse hay this spring, but I just didn't have it."
Some hay ground went to corn and wheat last year, and more will follow this year, he said. In addition to high grain prices, hay growers have to worry whether milk prices will be high enough to cover hay costs.
High grain prices have been a temptation for growers, and some hay ground has gone to grain, Hurst said.
"There's definitely competition for acres, not just corn but sugar beets, dry beans, potatoes. I even heard of some going to corn silage," he said.
Not only are acres down and the crop late, but winter kill has taken a much bigger bite out of the crop than normal, said Glenn Shewmaker, forage specialist with the University of Idaho in Twin Falls.
October's warm weather last year kept the crop growing and producers cutting, he said.
"It was a good, natural thing to do, make another harvest," he said. "But the plant was burning up carbohydrates it should have been storing for winter."
A November cold snap left plants without a chance to "harden" adequately, he said. Typically, growers stop cutting in September and instead of producing top growth, the plants start putting carbohydrates into the crown and tap root, which acts like an antifreeze.
"After a long winter, some just didn't wake up this spring," he said.
Based on the number of calls he's getting on winter kill, a substantial number of acres were affected, mostly in the higher elevations, but even some in Magic Valley, he said.
Growers are turning to less-dormant varieties, which is good when they can get an extra cutting, but stand life is reduced, and in this case, led to winter kill, he said.
Kauffman and Hurst both said they didn't have any problem with winter kill and haven't heard of any in their areas.
Nonetheless, there are enough other issues that the price of hay is going to be fairly high, Kauffman said.
USDA's Market News Service in Moses Lake, Wash., on May 20 reported premium alfalfa hay was going for $250 a ton and fair-quality hay was $160 a ton.
All Hay: Area Harvested
State 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011*
ID 1,450 1,410 1,510 1,470 1,370
CA 1,570 1,520 1,540 1,470 1,400
OR 1,010 1,025 1,030 1,045 1,000
WA 790 710 810 840 780
* Intended area harvested in 2011 as indicated by reports from farmers.