Hay Cutting Underway!

How to price it remains a mystery for hay growers.

Published on: May 29, 2008

One central Indiana hay grower took to the field last week, cutting alfalfa in the bud stage while waiting to get back into finish planting corn and soybeans. Part of his motivation was aided by the fact that strong win took down part of his alfalfa. Thanks to a flail-type mower conditioner, the new John Deere model that uses an impeller system instead of a sickle bar and rollers, he was able to cut the field with minimal difficulty.

And although young weevils were crawling all over his machine when he pulled out, he said he didn't see damage. And he didn't expect to. His alfalfa is supposed to be resistant to both weevils and leafhoppers. If you're growing varieties that aren't, now is the time to check for weevils if you haven't already. As soon as you cut and regrowth starts, be alert to potato leafhoppers. Left unchecked they can turn stands yellow and cause many plants to be short, hurting both quality and yield of the second cutting.

What's most troubling for the hay producer we visited with, though, is how to price his hay. Or should he just put it in the barn? Even before he took the mower to the field, his phone began ringing off the hook. Hay feeders burnt by last year's short crop an extremely high prices appear anxious to line up their supply of hay for the '08-'09 winter. The biggest problem for this producer, and apparently most others he's talked to, is deciding how much to charge if someone insists on buying now.

The problem, he says, is not knowing what this summer will bring. The first cutting avoided the freeze problems that got things off to a rocky start a year ago. But hay inventories going into this next season are nil. And the big question will be what will happen to additional cuttings. Will rain be plentiful and total hay crop return to normal, or will it be a short rainfall year again, with more baler power than hay to bale later in the summer?

The jury seems to be out on what hay growers will charge early on. It may take a couple of weeks and some early sales to determine how much risk buyers are willing to take, waiting to see if it's a more plentiful supply this year, with the hope of cheaper prices later, vs. wanting to take care of their hay needs and not have to worry about stalks or other alternative sources as they did a year ago.

If you hear of hay deals on new hay, let us know by contacting tbechman@farmprogress.com. We'll watch this situation develop along with you. Right now the ball would seem to be in the seller's court, but the risk is that if the summer turns out to be plentiful with moisture, later cuttings are good and hay supplies are up, prices could drop later on. Like with any other ag commodity, it eventually reverts to supply and demand.