Hay crop

Swathing alfalfa near George, Wash. Alfalfa prices have rebounded in much of the West but remain depressed in the Columbia Basin.

A lot of western alfalfa markets saw a $20 to $30 per ton decline year over year in the spring of 2020 due to pandemic-related lockdowns.

“The deep swings in the dairy market, too, didn’t help very much starting out,” Josh Callen, owner of The Hoyt Report, said during the Idaho Hay and Forage Association annual conference.

The price of supreme alfalfa hay delivered to Tulare, Calif., took a big dip from April to May. Prices went from an average of $275 a ton to $265, some of the lowest prices in a few years, he said.

They recovered steadily over the summer, and are back at around $275. Some of the jump in September and October was due to wildfires in California, which hurt the quality of some later cuttings, he said.

Fourth-quarter prices were $285, spurred by dairies that have cheese as their main outlet.

Idaho’s supreme alfalfa started off $30 lower year over year in May and June. In June, it was just above $170 but moved into the $180s in October.

Prices held fairly steady over the winter, and January prices should average $185, he said.

While most western markets recovered from the pandemic, the Columbia Basin was a different story. Washington in general was really different this year, he said.

The market for premium alfalfa started lower just like everywhere else. But it didn’t see the recovery that other states experienced, he said.

That hay was $195 in June compared with nearly $210 a year earlier, and the price moved lower to $170 by December.

“That price kept going down,” and there were a couple of factors, he said.

One was Washington had more alfalfa acres in 2020 because the Timothy hay market wasn’t good in 2019. Another factor was lower demand from the Middle East.

“Another thing has been that the dairies in Washington, I think, had a tougher time pricewise compared to other areas,” he said.

A few dairy cooperatives dominate in Washington, and labor costs are higher, he said.

“Those dairies, too, were in a little worse shape so they were probably a lot more cautious in their buying,” he said.

He expects that hay will average $170 to $175 in January.

Prices for premium/supreme alfalfa in central and southern Oregon tend to be pretty steady. Harvest got going later than other places so by mid-to late-June, some of the coronavirus disruption had started to calm down, he said.

Prices were comparable to a year earlier at around $210.

Markets for Idaho feeder hay started off quite a bit lower year over year in June, below $130. Prices hovered around $125 in August, September and October but climbed to $140 in December.

A lot of really nice hay went up in Nevada and Utah in 2020 but not much feeder hay. So starting out in the winter, there was kind of a mad scramble to buy feeder hay in those states, he said.

With a mild winter, demand for feeder hay steadied out, but the price has gone up $5, he said.

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