Hay prices respond to good demand

Hay prices are a regional phenomenon, but growers say prices this year in general are $20 to $30 a ton higher than last year.

After challenging weather in many areas at the start of hay season, growers in the Northwest are reporting better conditions and improved prices over last year’s crop.

Good domestic and foreign demand and moderate carryover inventory are the overall drivers, said Karen Witt, Northwest Farm Credit Services’ vice president of industry and portfolio insights.

“Generally, we continue to see strong demand for, and movement of, hay inventories throughout the Northwest and to the export market,” she said.

The region is seeing strong demand for good to supreme alfalfa and extremely strong demand for timothy hay, she said.

Supreme quality alfalfa (large square bales) brought up to $215 a ton last week in Lake County Ore., and premium timothy (mid square bales) for export sold for $280 a ton in the Columbia Basin, according to USDA’s weekly hay report.

Exports have been strong, helping to raise prices a bit, said Will Ricks, a Monteview, Idaho, grower and president of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association.

“Prices are up probably $20 to $30 a ton higher across the board,” compared with last year, he said.

First-cutting alfalfa in his neck of the woods in Eastern Idaho got quite a lot of rain, with very little put up green. But the rain held off for the second cutting, and most of that is wrapping up, he said.

“There’s been no rain for over a week. A lot of baling is getting done, and it’s going up pretty nice. I think most people are pretty happy with yields,” he said.

Hay crops in central Oregon are looking pretty good, with grass hay selling for $180 to $250 a ton, said Greg Mohnen, a Bend grower and president of the Oregon Hay and Forage Association.

He hasn’t started his second cutting of grass hay yet — it’s been so hot the grass isn’t growing well, he said.

“It’s doing good; it’s just hot. It’s not growing as fast as we like,” he said.

In central Washington, the alfalfa crop is doing pretty well, said Scot Courtright, a Moses Lake grower and secretary/treasurer of the Washington Hay Growers Association.

“I think overall, the quality is better than last year, he said.

The area didn’t get a lot of rain, and there’s not a lot of low-quality alfalfa this year, he said.

In Northern California, first-cutting alfalfa was a little on the light side and down a little in quality. Hot, dry weather had the second crop coming on fast with heavy yields, said Brandon Fawaz, a Scott Valley grower and a California Alfalfa & Forage Association board member

The big issue this year in his region was a “terrible infestation” of army worms in grass hay. Growers who got behind on insecticide treatment had devastating damage, he said.

Overall, movement has been lower on orchard grass — with prices about $20 a ton lower than last year — and higher on alfalfa, with prices about $20 higher and possibly even higher on high-quality alfalfa, he said.

From what he’s hearing, overall hay production from the Sacramento Valley north to the Oregon borer will be down this year, with some areas flooded out.

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