COLUMBIA- Hay prices have soared, thanks to prolonged drought and farmers’ switching to more profitable plantings of corn and soybeans.
May’s average for prices per ton of dry hay came to $111, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, up from $88 a year ago, and $71 in 2010. Alfalfa, which is a more nutritious feed, gets better prices and has jumped even higher in the last two years, climbing to $190 per ton this May, up from $125 per ton in May, 2010.
Whitney Wiegal, an agriculture business specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, cites shrinking supplies. “A couple years ago it was a little bit easier to come up with hay,” he said. “It’s as high as I’ve ever seen.”
Wiegal attributes much of this to drought conditions, not only in Missouri but also last year’s severe droughts in Oklahoma and Texas. Since hay is what Wiegal calls a “bulky commodity,” meaning its expensive to transport, buyers typically look to local sources for hay.
But with local hay crops and grazing land suffering from drought in Texas and Oklahoma, buyers last year looked outside their home states for hay, including Missouri. Missouri’s exports contributed to increased prices within the state last year.
“A good portion of the hay produced in Missouri went to drought-stricken Texas and Oklahoma.” Charles Buckner, a cattle farmer in Fair Grove, Mo., feels the pinch as hay and other input costs rise, while his sale price of products fall. “It’s cost us a lot. Dairy is down a bunch. Milk is way down,” he said. Buckner gets most of his hay from about five sellers centered mostly in northern Missouri. “I buy a lot, feed a lot of cattle.”
Last year, Buckner saw prices nearly double. He hasn’t started buying his hay feed for this summer, but he expects prices to be high as well.
Dry weather is already having an effect on prices this summer. The June 8 “Weekly Hay Summary” published by the Missouri Department of Agriculture noted that, “The storyline dominating all of Missouri agriculture this week is the need for rain.”
Most of Missouri has been abnormally dry this year, with some areas in southeast Missouri experiencing moderate and even severe drought. “Hay producers are generally seeing lower yields than expected, some losing as much as 50 percent,” the report noted. While demand is good to moderate, supply is light to moderate—and “prices are firm.”
Drought isn’t the end of the story, though. Wiegal said that growing hay isn’t typically a profitable enterprise, but growing corn and soy is very profitable these days with prices for those crops very robust.“Pretty much anything that can go to corn and beans will go to corn and beans,” he said.
The land leftover for growing hay is generally too steep, too rocky or has too much clay to grow soy or corn. With the weather still dry and corn and soy prices still high, the pressure s on hay supplies aren’t likely to subside anytime soon.
“It looks to me like hay prices will stay high through the summer,” Wiegal said.