Hauling Hay: Wyoming, northern states ship south
A mid-August report from Texas Agri-Life Extension says the drought in the south continues, hay supplies are very short, cattle are being sold and pastures and crops are burning up.
Central Texas reports trees are showing signs of severe stress, and stock tank water levels are very low, which is expected to cause the sale of more livestock. All hay that’s being fed has been imported from other states.
For Wyoming and other northern hay-producing states, that means a steady stream of trucks loaded with hay has been heading south. Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager
Donn Randall says he counted 22 trucks loaded with hay headed out of the state between Cheyenne and Shoshoni, in late July.
According to the July 22 Hoyt Report, in one week 3,000 tons of hay left Wyoming.
The strong demand from southern states, combined with a cold, wet start to the growing season and some alfalfa acreage replaced by corn, has, so far, resulted in below-average supplies in Wyoming this summer.
“We started out this year with so much rain and cool weather that the quality wasn’t very good, but our tonnage was,” says Barry McRea of Valley Video Hay Markets in Torrington, which is operated in conjunction with Torrington Livestock Markets. “Then the second cutting’s tonnages were very good, with the moisture, but we also had the heat and it grew so fast that we’re not growing as much dairy hay in the areas I service.”
Alcova hay producer Ron Richner agrees, saying his area’s production has been a little lower this year than usual because of the cool weather.
“The hay didn’t grow as well, and the undergrowth didn’t come into the grass hay as well,” he says.
Fremont County alfalfa producer Lloyd Dechert, who operates Wyoming Hay Cubes with his son Jerry Dechert, says it looks to be a good year for hay markets, but he also sees his area’s alfalfa yields down 10 percent.
“Weather and insects play a part in yield, and with the cool spring it didn’t start as early,” he says. “We cut the first cutting a little later, but the second cutting looks pretty good. As far as a shortage of hay overall this year, we’ll know that when the hay season’s over.”
Richner sells most of his hay locally to horse markets, and he comments that prices are “higher than a kite,” with small square bales selling for five to six dollars per bale. However, he also adds that his equipment, parts, tires and other costs have risen.
“This year we’re making a little bit of profit to help offset the years that we don’t. Agriculture is always a roller coaster,” he states.
Dechert says this summer’s high hay prices aren’t directly reflected in his business, as he operates in a specialty market with a consistent market base.
“I have fielded several calls even today from Texas and Oklahoma, but that’s not something I can deal with, as it’s a one-time market. I’m in a long-term business, with an established market that has priority,” he comments.
Of the acreage in alfalfa this summer, McRea says, “In my local area it appears that 50 percent of alfalfa acres were torn up and either put into corn or wheat, and that’s a major factor in the crop from here to Idaho. Southern California also went from alfalfa to cotton, so that’s the leading factor in hay supplies.”
He also notes that many livestock producers were dependant on Kansas for hay supplies, but that state has been affected by heat.
“It’s not so much the drought as the heat – their second cutting didn’t produce, and a lot of sprinklers were shut off because the hay was going dormant,” he notes.
McRea, who also works with Hay Time Auctions, a two-day time auction also affiliated with Torrington Livestock, works in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, and he says the entire region’s hay is going to Texas. Hay Time Auctions holds an online event every two weeks from the first of June through December, transitioning to an inventory-driven sale in January. The sale operates much like an eBay auction.
“To fill the void, most everyone’s going to the Dakotas, and there’s more and more of that going on, but most of the hay in the Dakotas is in round bales,” he notes.
McRea says he saw the market for feeder hay start at $140 to $150 per ton this summer, and all of that was going to Texas.
“Every week the market seems to inch higher, and sales of feeder hay are going from $155 to $170 per ton now,” he says. “Somewhere along the line there will be a limit to prices – I don’t know how long they can continue to ship feed so far to Texas. There will be a balance somewhere, but I don’t know where.”
The July 27 market report for the most recent Hay Time Auction says 5,219 tons were sold. Supreme alfalfa in 3×4 square bales ranged from $196 to $267, while premium alfalfa in 3×3 bales sold from $190 to $200. Good quality alfalfa in 4×4 and 3×4 bales ranged from $134 to $176. Good quality in large rounds topped out at $131. Utility grades in 4×4 and 3×4 bales started at $116 and topped out at $145.
McRea adds that he thinks feeders will begin to find less hay to purchase, as dairies will soon begin to push to build their inventories and will start to buy lower-quality hay than what they’re accustomed to.
“From speaking with Wyoming producers, I’d say 90 percent of their first cutting has been spoken for, contracted or sold,” says Randall. “Some are holding off on selling because they don’t know what their needs are.”
Because of the great out-of-state demand, Randall says he’s worked with producers this summer who are new to selling hay over long distances.
McRea says he’s seen new people involved with Valley Video and Hay Time from Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, and those range in size from larger hay brokers to smaller individuals.
“Our auction provides an easy outlook for them, and they know where they can find several thousand tons,” he notes. “Our customer list has grown dramatically through this drought, and our auctions are a convenience factor. Most individuals farmers and ranchers usually grow their own hay, and aren’t used to purchasing hay and don’t know where to find it, so they can look at our auctions and ask questions.”
Looking to his second cutting, Richner says he expects the quality to be up from his first cutting, provided the rain doesn’t hit at the wrong times.
“If producers have some extra hay – even last year’s crop would bring a respectable price,” says Randall. “Hay is hay, as long as it’s still in pretty good shape.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.