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Published August 04, 2009, 06:31 PM

Hay in short supply

David Matejcek is afraid he’ll have to buy hay this fall to feed his 110 head of cattle. Even after taking about 300 acres of land out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program when the contract expired, the farmer from the western Walsh County town of Lawton, N.D., doesn’t think he’ll have enough of a hay crop to feed his herd.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

David Matejcek is afraid he’ll have to buy hay this fall to feed his 110 head of cattle.

Even after taking about 300 acres of land out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program when the contract expired, the farmer from the western Walsh County town of Lawton, N.D., doesn’t think he’ll have enough of a hay crop to feed his herd.

“That’s probably not enough because of the cool weather,” Matejcek said.

He doesn’t like to think of the alternative — selling some of his cattle.

“It depends,” he said. “There’s a chance, but I’m hoping not.”

Matejcek isn’t alone.

Walsh County is one of the larger livestock producing counties in northeastern North Dakota, with 10,671 cattle and calves, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 Census of Agriculture. Nelson County also had more than 10,000.

“Right now, where things are at, I think a lot of my cattlemen are in the mode right now where they’re deciding whether to sell cows or buy hay, or make new hay, if they can,” Walsh County Agricultural Extension Agent Brummond said. “They have to decide something by mid-September. If they dump cattle, they’ll probably do it this fall. And the beef market hasn’t been that great these days.”

Swimming in moisture

Matejcek and other farmer-ranchers in western Walsh County, as well as portions of Nelson and Ramsey counties, are swimming in moisture.

It’s not necessarily the 6 to 9 inches that fell in one storm in late June. It’s a problem that has been growing for more than decade in this area of northeastern North Dakota, between the Red River Valley and the Devils Lake sub-basin.

But it’s been compounded by extreme conditions since last fall, when excessive rain froze through the winter. Then, the spring and summer have been colder than normal.

“There is frustration because their haying acres areas are in low-lying areas,” said Kristi Brintnell, Walsh County executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Brintnell said some ranchers are asking about FSA’s emergency haying program.

But Walsh County doesn’t qualify, even with the 6 to 9 inches of rain in late June. To qualify, the moisture level must be above 140 percent of the four-month average, she said. Walsh County only hit 115 percent from March through June.

Many farmers are buying hay or trying to stretch their hay crops with corn silage.

“Some have planted some annual forages, like sorghum,” Brummond said. “Most of our ranchers who need hay don’t have enough land to do it. We needed to do it a couple of weeks ago.”

“There’s a fair amount of cattle in the area, more so than in other parts of the county. Every neighbor has a few head. We’re all sitting in the same situation,” Matejcek said. “What we really need is some good, dry weather and some heat.”

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com.

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