Lack of quality hay cuts into margins
Poor weather, competition from other crops reduce supply for dairymen
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
A shortage of high-quality hay and rising prices is putting a strain on dairymen in the Pacific Northwest and California.
The price for supreme hay in Eastern Washington has jumped from $200 a ton to $235 a ton in about three weeks, said Mike Schoneveld, a Ferndale dairyman. Medium-quality hay is going for $180 to $200 and feeder hay is moving at $140 to $150.
"Rain damaged most of first cutting and at least half of fourth cutting," he said.
The high price of hay has led him to change his rations. He's feeding more locally grown grass silage and corn silage, he said.
Feed costs are making things tough, he added.
"With the current milk prices, the dairy business is still profitable," he said. "But if milk prices fall in the spring, it won't be."
The University of Idaho's Oct. 21 PNW Dairy Monitor reports Class III milk at $16.26 a hundredweight, compared with $15.18 a month earlier and $12.11 a year ago. Class IV is at $16.76, compared with $15.61 a month earlier and $11.15 a year ago.
The reduction in the corn crop has increased all feed grain prices, and short supplies of high-quality hay will keep prices strong, the report stated.
"Real top quality hay is very, very hard to find," said Ray Souza, a Turlock, Calif., dairyman.
Supreme hay is going for $220 a ton, and high-quality hay is going for $200, he said. Prices have been strong all year.
Hay in general is hard to find in California, due to drought, competition from other crops and water shortages that left some ground fallow.
At some point, high feed costs will prompt farmers to send more cows to slaughter and produce less milk, he said. Farmers are also likely to change their rations, getting a little less milk to manage feed costs. Souza said he changed the his cows' ration to use more byproducts as an alternative to corn and expensive hay.
In Oregon, prices for high-quality hay have jumped $50 a ton from last year, said Bernie Faber, a Salem dairyman. Prices are running $160 to $200 a ton. Availability of high-quality hay is fairly low, particularly in the Klamath Falls region, he said.
The quality coming out of the area is excellent, but cold weather hurt tonnage, he added. In the southern area of the region, the lack of available water resulted in growers only getting a first cutting.
Prices in Idaho for dairy-quality hay are following corn and wheat prices higher, said Jim Pearson, a Buhl dairyman. The summer average was $100 a ton; now it's closer to $150.
"And a lot of people are plowing alfalfa out and planting wheat and corn," he said.
Not much high-quality hay is available, he said. The first cutting was either rained on or cut late. The fourth cutting was short, and a lot of it was rained on, so both quantity and quality are down.