Eric Brown
ebrown@greeleytribune.com

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May 13, 2013
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Hay growth well behind schedule; prices not expected to drop

This year’s first hay cutting can’t come soon enough for buyers who are dealing with the tightest supplies on record and still paying all-time high prices.

Unfortunately, those dairymen, cattle feeders and horse owners will be waiting longer than normal to get their hands on hay this year, local farmers and agronomists said, and prices aren’t expected to drop anytime soon.

The abundance of moisture in northeast Colorado during April was much needed after months of drought, but the freezing temperatures that came with those snowstorms weren’t ideal for most crops.

Alfalfa and hay cutting in most years kicks off around Memorial Day weekend — often following an April and May that feature temperatures in the 70s, which are ideal for growth.

However, farmers said it could be well into June before they can finally cut this year.

This spring has so far included an April that saw low-temperature records broken on nine different days in Greeley, and a May that’s expected see temperatures this week near 90 degrees.

As a result of the extreme conditions, hay and alfalfa in some area fields is only about one-third the height it should be at this time of the year, said Bruce Bosley, a cropping systems specialist for Colorado State University Extension.

Alfalfa and hay growers like to do four cuttings per year, but Bosley said not getting a first cutting done until well into June could put a “crimp” in having time for a fourth cutting before the end of this year’s growing season.

“We take what we can get, and we’ll take the recent moisture,” Bosley said, referring to the barrage of snow in April that’s left the Greeley area more than 40 percent ahead of normal this year for precipitation.

“But these temperatures haven’t helped anything. It seems like we in agriculture can always find something to complain about,” he added with a slight laugh.

The local issues, limited supplies nationally and continued drought in other parts of the U.S. — including southern Colorado — leave experts questioning how much the hay situation in northeast Colorado and elsewhere will improve this year.

In February 2011, prior to the historic Texas drought and the widespread U.S. drought of 2012, prices for high-quality alfalfa in northeast Colorado sat at about $140-$150 per ton, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

For the past two years, though, prices have been nearly double that and remained at $250-$300 per ton last week, according to USDA numbers.

With hay prices high and supplies limited, there were 15 reports of hay theft in 2012 in Weld County — more than double what it had been the year before.

A recent USDA report showed that hay stocks on May 1 were at a record low — 14.2 million tons.

The USDA began its May 1 report in 1960, and the prior low for U.S. hay stocks on that date was 15 million tons in 2007.

On Dec. 1, 2012, U.S. hay stocks were 76.5 million tons — also the smallest since USDA began its annual Dec. 1 report.

According to a report from the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver, record-high costs rationed hay use this winter as producers searched-out alternative feedstuffs and reduced their livestock numbers.

Between Dec. 1, 2012, and May 1, hay usage totaled 62.4 million tons, the smallest since 1976-77 — another major drought period.

Mike Veeman, whose family has dairies and farms in Weld, Morgan and Logan counties, said hay prices forced him to change his feed rations for his cows, depending less on high-quality alfalfa.

He expressed optimism on Monday, though, that the abundance of precipitation will continue throughout the growing season, improving production and helping lower all prices for livestock feed — corn included.

Others weren’t as optimistic.

“I’m just not sure the situation is going to improve greatly any time soon,” said Floss Blackburn with Denkai Animal Sanctuary, whose organization has had to limit the number of horses it has rescued for the past several months because of feed shortages.

Earlier this year, Denkai had to go as far as Vancouver, Canada, to find an affordable source of hay.

“There’s still a long way to go,” said Blackburn.


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My Windsor Now Updated May 16, 2013 12:09PM Published May 18, 2013 12:47AM Copyright 2013 My Windsor Now. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.