If you check out the July 21 issue of Agweek and the CropStop from southeast Montana, you’ll see some smiling hay and beef producers. One of these folks asked me how much hay was bringing these days.
So I checked with Guy Garrison, who raises and markets hay from his St. John, N.D., farm north of Rolla and near the Canadian border. Garrison said that folks who run the Sauk Centre, Minn., auction, held every first and third Thursday at a truck stop there, have told him good quality dairy hay is bringing a good $250 to $280 per ton range. But it has to have relatively high food value.
Garrison says some long-standing customers 600 miles away (I won’t say where) pay him $200 a ton for good grass hay, although the stuff has brought $120 to $130 per ton in some of the auctions. Garrison says he recently talked to a dairyman in Minnesota who wanted to pay $110 per ton for good grass hay, but Garrison said he couldn’t deliver it for less than $120.
The availability of good hay depends locally on how much rain people have had, and when. Garrison was baling some nice timothy-brome hay, but it had been on the ground about 12 days. He said he’s hauled some alfalfa to a pelleting plant near Willmar, Minn., where the plant officials told him much of the local alfalfa first cutting was “trash” due to untimely rains.
Andy Swenson, a North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist, says hay prices have been pretty volatile in the past few years. With all of the rain through much of the region, prices should be fairly “normal,” he says.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service breaks down hay prices by alfalfa and non-alfalfa, reports, but much of the country looks at high-quality dairy hay and some of the North Dakota’s alfalfa isn’t managed as intensely, he says. Plus, there are transportation costs that cut the farm gate price for farmers selling to dairies. Swenson says North Dakota is known of having some of the “cheapest hay in the country.”
Oh, on a side note: Swenson says he was at a national farm management education meeting earlier this summer. The group toured a farm north of Salt Lake City, Utah. The Utah farm received a lot of alfalfa grown in Montana and Wyoming and compressed and shipped it to Asia. In China, their customers are large dairies with up to 50,000 cows. At the other extreme, in Japan, big bales are sometimes cut into smaller, 50- and 70—pound bales that are carried by bicycles to feed their “herd” of three to five cows.
That’s a farm size range of 10,000 to one, isn’t it? There’s a difference in farms and I’m not sure what “average” means anymore.