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Published September 07, 2010, 09:54 AM

Wet summer leads to plentiful hay crop

Robert Schriefer has a bunch of big hay bales to sell, but he’s not optimistic.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Robert Schriefer has a bunch of big hay bales to sell, but he’s not optimistic.

“Everyone around here had a good hay crop,” the Golden Valley, N.D., producer says.

After one of the wettest, greenest summers on the Northern Plains in recent memory, it should be no surprise that area farmers generally are harvesting excellent hay crops.

That has pushed down hay prices across most of the region, but especially in North Dakota and Montana.

“Supply and demand is really what this (lower hay prices) is about,” says Tim Petry, livestock economist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo.

Hay crops have been good nationwide, not just in the region, he says.

Nationwide, the average all-hay price in July fell to $112 per ton from $116 in July 2009, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hay prices in North Dakota tend to be among the lowest in the nation, Petry says.

The state’s wide-open spaces and climate are well suited for growing hay, and North Dakota’s relatively small dairy industry reduces demand for high-quality, higher-cost hay.

Even so, prices have fallen even lower than usual this summer.

The average all-hay price in the state in July was $56, down from $77 in July 2009, according to NASS.

Montana has big crop

In Montana, the all-hay price in June, the most recent month for which statistics are available, was $90 per ton, down from $115 in June 2009.

“It’s just a bodaciously good hay crop,” says Dennis Cash, forage specialist with the Montana State University Extension Service in Bozeman.

He says he’ll have a better handle on hay prices after several big sales this fall.

In South Dakota, the average all-hay price in July was $73 per ton, down from $75 in June.

Storms and grasshoppers in part of the state hindered South Dakota’s hay harvest in August, NASS says.

In Minnesota, the all-hay price averaged $111 per ton in July, up from $109 per ton in July 2009.

The change was too slight to hold much significance, says Dan Martens, an extension educator with the University of Minnesota in Sterns, Benton and Morrison counties.

Martens, based in Foley, Minn., says more will be known about hay prices in central Minnesota, where he works, after several big hay sales this fall.

Price rise later?

Hay prices typically are lowest in the summer, but they can rise later if demand strengthens.

A big price increase doesn’t appear likely anytime soon, Petry says.

Area pastures generally hold more grass than usual going into fall, which means less demand for hay this fall and early winter.

Plus, area crops are good, so there’s more grain straw than usual to feed to livestock, he says.

Transporting hay large distances to sell usually isn’t a paying proposition because hay is bulky and of relatively low value for its size,

That’s especially true this year since good hay crops are common nationwide, Petry says.

Schriefer says he won’t complain if he can’t sell his hay.

“I’m happy to see the good hay harvest for everyone,” he says.