Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Hay supplies remain tight with high prices

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:19 PM

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BURTRUM, Minn. — Burtrum dairy farmers Dan and Sarah Roerick won't be purchasing as much hay this year, thanks to timely July 4th rains.

Despite last year's dry weather, rain gave their alfalfa stands enough moisture to produce good dairy quality hay that will meet their 90-cow milking herd's needs through the winter, Dan Roerick said.

Other farmers aren't as fortunate.

Some producers need to buy hay whether through private treaty or at hay auctions.

Hay is expensive and it's not all due to the drought.

Fewer alfalfa acres are planted, he noted. Longtime alfalfa stands near the couple's farm have been plowed up and were planted to corn as farmers strive to capture greater returns.

University of Minnesota Extension educator Dan Martens agrees. Cattle numbers haven't grown substantially and hay supplies are expected to remain tight.

Prices averaged around $212 a ton nationally in 2012.

University of Wisconsin Extension Service hay specialist Ken Barnett recently reported hay selling for $8.75 higher in southwest Minnesota with good sales activity.

Even straw in the Midwest was averaging $3.02 for a small square and $38.75 for a large square. Large round bales were around $43.81.

"Compared to the previous week, straw prices for small square bales were 1 percent higher," he said. "For large square bales, prices were 3 percent higher and for large round bales, prices were 22 percent higher."

Dan Roerick has seen good quality dairy hay average $250 a ton or higher at auction, he said.

For some dairy farmers, grasses and meadow hay is an option.

Martens reports some lowland meadows that might not have been harvested on a regular basis were baled.

"Some of this hay will not be great quality, but it might serve as a roughage for some rations, providing energy and protein are adequately met," he said.

Those lots at auction have garnered high prices, as well. At one auction, a second cutting of meadow hay sold for $230 a ton.

"That's just crazy," he said of meadow hay prices.

For many in central Minnesota, the hay crop produced normal yields.

The October USDA report by state notes that Minnesota's hay production was projected to be 2.9 million tons in 2012 compared to 4.07 million tons in 2011.

"I doubt that demand for hay is very much different than it was last year," Martens said. "Some people may have adjusted rations for more corn silage, corn stalks and straw in some heifer and dry cow rations with the use of some by-product feeds to deal with having less hay and more expensive hay."

Some are turning to beet pulp to replace hay in cows' rations, Dan Roerick said.

"But it's hard to mimic quality dairy hay," he said.

Martens doesn't think hay availability will be a problem.

"In 1988 we did not run out of hay," he said. "And I doubt if we will this year."