SALEM, Ohio — High quality hay is scarce after a rough growing season in 2018 — heavy rain and unpredictable weather — and available hay now comes at a high price, just when many farmers have run out.
There has also been a decrease in hay supply in recent years. May 1, 2018, hay stocks were down 33% from May 2017 on Ohio farms, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
With varying temperatures this winter and spring, and wet pasture conditions, livestock are using more energy, meaning they need high quality hay.
Local auctions still have hay rolling in, but good quality hay comes at a higher cost. Many local hay auctions in eastern Ohio/western Pennsylvania have seen year-over-year hay prices increase anywhere between 35% and 40%. (Scroll down to see a comparison of 2018-2019 hay prices at two Ohio hay auctions.)
The upcoming haying season might not be any better, as heaving damage is a concern in many fields, a carryover from varying weather conditions, according to Rory Lewandowski, an OSU Extension educator in Wayne County.
According to an article written by Lewandowski and Dr. Mark Sulc, Extension forage specialist at Ohio State University, heaving occurs in tap-rooted crops due to wet soils that freeze and thaw in cycles over a period of time. The plant can be lifted out of the soil, exposing the crown to unfit conditions that cause issues during harvest.
The only solution to heaving is to reseed or to start a field over again in a new crop. “First cutting is where we will see some shortages,” said Lewandowski.
Lack of growers
Donald Ilhardt sold his dairy operation 10 years ago and began growing commercial hay on 350 acres east of Cincinnati, while also raising some beef cattle.
He believes the hay shortage is due in part to the lack of large hay operations, as growers have been selling and retiring over the years and there has been no replacement.
Ilhardt sold out of his hay from the 2018 season around Thanksgiving, and has purchased upwards of 500 ton throughout the winter to keep his customers happy.
Even with purchasing large amounts of hay for customers from Michigan, West Virginia and local farms, he is still turning away “four to five per day approximately,” he says. Ilhardt said each load he purchases lasts typically three days.
Where to buy
Lynn Neuenschwander manages Farriss Dairy Farm in Dalton, Ohio, and is an auctioneer and brokers hay. Fifteen years ago, he started buying hay out of Canada for his farm and has since been buying hay for other farmers too.
For the past 12 years, he has been buying from the same producer in Kansas, who is completely out of hay for the year.
This past year, Neuenschwander witnessed hay being offered to a farmer, but before that farmer could respond that they wanted the hay, the hay seller had sold it to a different farmer, which has never been an issue before.
Neuenschwander questioned what farmers will feed if the hay shortage continues and grain prices rise due to flooding, “which we have no control over.”
He also said that farmers out West have mentioned they may not plant as much alfalfa this season and may instead switch fields to soybeans and corn if they aren’t going to receive premium prices for their hay.
Neuenschwander has seen some of the best quality hay the past few years with some tests this past year coming back with 26-28% protein.
The wet weather last fall caused issues for farmers, yielding a lower quality of late-cutting hay than normal in some cases.
Dave Campbell, Ford City, Pa., operates a dairy and hay farm, producing around 500 acres of hay each year. They typically sell to dairy farmers and some horse owners.
“We are pretty much sold down,” said Campbell. “We didn’t get everything made we needed to. We turned away customers; we didn’t have enough to go around.”
“We just did the best we could,” said Campbell. For their own heifers, they have been feeding more wrapped hay.
The Campbells have seen some damage to fields over winter. “I think this year yields might be down because of it,” said Campbell, adding they will reseed more than normal because of all the damage.
What to do
The hay shortage affects farmers of all livestock — dairy, beef and horses, and many are looking for alternative methods to feeding hay such as putting animals on pasture earlier.
But turning livestock out to pasture early may not be the solution, due to the slow growth this spring because of wet pasture conditions.
Lewandowski recommends talking with a nutritionist to look into different options for feed.
2018 v. 2019 price difference at two hay auctions in Ohio
Kidron Livestock Auction, March 19, 2018
First cutting hay: $70 to $150
Second cutting: $90 to $215
Third cutting: $120 to $195
Large hay (each): $25 to $50
Large hay (ton): $40 to $135
Kidron Livestock Auction, March 28, 2019
First cutting hay: $250 to $435
Second cutting: $235 to $590
Third cutting: $460 to $500
Large hay (each): $15 to $80
Large Hay (ton): $35 to $360
Mount Hope Livestock Auction, March 28, 2018
Alfalfa 2nd cutting: $250 to $310
Alfalfa 3rd and 4th: $275 to $300
Mixed, first: $135 to $250
Mixed, 2nd and 3rd: $165 to $350
Large bales per bale: $30 to $85
Large bales per ton: $70 to $190
Mount Hope Livestock Auction, March 27, 2019
Alfalfa 2nd cutting: $250 to $485
Alfalfa 3rd and 4th: $300 to $560
Mixed, first: $160 to $350
Mixed, 2nd and 3rd: $200 to $475
Large bales per bale: $42.50 to $130
Large bales per ton: $100 to $400
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