By DAN WHEAT
ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- The extent of rain damage to Washington's first-cutting Columbia Basin alfalfa is a real concern to Japan-focused exporters like himself, says Jeff Calaway, president of Calaway Trading Inc., Ellensburg.
"The success of your alfalfa program in Japan can depend on quantity of first-cutting alfalfa you are able to supply," Calaway said.
But it's not as great a worry as in years past as exports have fanned out into the Middle East and China where low price is a greater sales factor than quality, he said.
"We're more dependent now on good weather for the rest of first-cutting to get some good stuff," said Mark T. Anderson, president of Anderson Hay & Grain Co. Inc., another West Coast exporter based in Ellensburg.
"Recently in Ellensburg it's been like we're in the San Juans (islands). We're hoping for good weather, if not we'll be forced to buy in other areas," Anderson said.
First-cutting starts in the Columbia Basin in the Northwest and then runs through June into higher elevations in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, Calaway said. Exporters will turn there more if they can't get what they need out of the Basin, he said.
Anderson said he's worried about quality falling in the Basin the longer first-cutting goes.
"The later we cut we worry about test -- the quality of protein, fiber and RHV (relative feed value). Nutrient value falls if we're not able to cut as soon as we like," he said.
Overall, there's been a softening of prices in the export market due to a 27 percent weakening of the Japanese Yen compared to a year ago and because of lower corn prices keeping Pacific Southwest hay prices down, Calaway said.
Weather has been good so far for PSW harvest soon to end third-cutting, said Nicholas Gombos, supply chain manager of ACX Pacific Northwest in Bakersfield, Calif. Water concerns, always present, are accentuated by low spring precipitation and low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, he said.
First-cutting rain has been a problem not only in Washington's Columbia Basin but in Oregon and Western Idaho which could shift traditional high-quality first-cutting buyers to other sources for replacement, Gombos said.