Hay swathers rolling in southern Idaho

Swathers are rolling through southern Idaho’s hay crop, and growers are optimistic about yield and quality, and the sunny weather forecast for the next 10 days.

In Twin Falls County, Clark Kauffman still has some alfalfa to cut but is already baling and stacking small bales headed for the horse market.

Yields are about normal but could be down a bit because he cut early this year, beginning May 26. Quality is good despite a day of rain that caught some of his hay in windrows. But it’s still green and leafy and will make good horse hay, he said.

In addition to a little rain, he’s battled low temperatures that kept setting the crop back and wind that kept it really dry, he said.

The cold spring weather brought frosts, same as last year when he delayed cutting. Last year’s crop kept maturing even though it wasn’t blooming, which resulted in big stems and lower quality. That’s why he cut a little early this year, he said.

That and the fact that demand is strong and prices look good.

“People are calling every day and coming and getting it. There’s not much around, especially small bales,” he said.

Hay is selling for $200 to $220 a ton, he said.

USDA Market News in Moses Lake, Wash., reports average prices for new crop Idaho hay last week were $237 a ton for supreme quality, $200 a ton for both premium and good, and about $192 a ton for fair.

Harvest of first cutting is ahead of the five-year average at 55 percent in south-central Idaho and 59 percent in southwest Idaho, compared with the average 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively, said Vince Matthews, director of the Idaho office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Harvest hasn’t really taken off in southeastern Idaho, with only 4 percent of first cutting harvested, but things are looking good despite the cool spring, said Will Ricks, president of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association and a Monteview grower.

Most producers in the area will start cutting next week, a little earlier than last year. Yield is expected to be down just a bit but quality is expected to be good, he said

In Cassia County, Wayne Hurst started cutting late last week, and overall things are looking pretty good. Tonnage is looking good even with frosts knocking the crop back, but he can’t say anything on quality yet, he said.

Cold weather in April and the first 10 days of May has Jim Blanksma running a week to 10 days late in harvesting his crop in Elmore County. He’s running dawn to dark as hard as he can, he said.

His crop has had some rain damage and frost damage, unusual in his areas, but said overall it should be pretty good hay if he can get it up with no problems. He’s expecting first cutting to yield a little more because he held off cutting it, he said.

There’s no doubt hay north of the Snake River will have some frost damage, said Jerome County Extension Educator Steve Hines.

Nighttime temperatures dropped well below freezing in early May, and there’s a chance yields will be lower due to cooler temperatures in general, he said.

Some earlier cut hay was rained on, but it was likely green chopped and put up pretty quickly. Hay that’s lying in the field now doesn’t seem to have any moisture damage. But winter mustards were pretty prevalent, and that’s likely to affect quality, he said.

Harvested acreage for all hay in Idaho is expected to be down 10,000 acres from last year to 1.33 million acres, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Nationwide those acres are expected to be up 159,000 acres to 56.5 million acres.

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