Oregon-California hay crop average despite challenges

Bart Fleming of Klamath Falls, Ore., has a load of alfalfa weighed at Mac's Store east of Klamath Falls on Oct. 17. Fleming says the price for the 2017 crop of hay is much better than the past two years.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Hay growers in central and southcentral Oregon and in northern California dealt with such issues as early season scattered rains, the presence of army worms and smoke from wildfires this year, but they generally agree they ended up with an average season.

Countering those negative conditions was the fact the price for hay slowly trended upwards, and there’s a demand for it.

“Between July and now, the market has gone up between $20 and $30 (a ton),” said David King, a Klamath County hay grower who is president of the Klamath Basin Hay Growers Association. “Ending this year with a higher price bodes well for next year.”

King said the demand for Oregon and northern California hay is up because the cattle population in the U.S. has increased, more ground in California is being planted to orchard trees or other crops rather than hay and the export market to East Asia remains strong.

“With the amount of trees being planted in California, there’s not as much room left for hay in that state,” said Matt Maddox, the manager-broker for High Mountain Hay Growers, a cooperative of 18 hay growers in southcentral Oregon and northern California. “The export market has stayed pretty strong and the retail market has gotten better.”

Maddox said the retail price for 100-pound bales is $13 to $17 for timothy, $11 to $14 for orchard grass and $10 to $12 for alfalfa.

“The price depends on the quality of the hay and the location,” Maddox said, noting that freight is an expense that factors into the price.

Maddox added that the price for the bales of alfalfa (1,200 to 1,800 pounds) going to dairies is ranging from $200 to $235 a ton, depending on how the hay tests for quality. Alfalfa that doesn’t test quite as high and is being exported is going for $160 to $200 a ton.

Bart Fleming, a Klamath Falls area hay grower, said the hay price “was way better than the last two years and the trend is upwards.

“All of our hay has a planned home,” he added. “The California market seems to be the strength for our operation. There’s been some export activity, but there’s been more of a (California) dairy influence this season.”

Dan Roberts, the president of the Lake County Hay and Forage Association, said several growers in that county have said they are already sold out with most of their quality hay going to dairies and some to export.

Lower quality hay from Oregon and northern California has also been readily sold, going to beef, sheep and goat owners.

While the demand and the improved price are positives for the end of the year for hay growers, the season got off to a bit of a rough start. Scattered rain showers on the first cutting negatively impacted some hay. Then in mid-summer, many grass hay fields were infested with army worms and growers had to go to the expense of having an insecticide flown onto those fields.

“It’s not a cheap spray, so there was the additional cost and some reduced yield,” King said. “If you don’t spray, the crop will be decimated.”

Maddox said it had been a long time since he had seen army worms be a factor across the whole southern Oregon and northern California region.

Then for the region’s third cutting, smoke that drifted in from wildfires blocked the sun and in some fields stunted the growth of a hay crop or prevented the cutting from curing. Fleming said his third cutting laid in the field for nine days before curing. Normally, it takes half that time.

Fleming, like King, hopes the hay price stays up for the 2018 hay crop, but in the meantime he said he had plenty to do with his hay equipment needing maintenance.

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