Columbia Basin hay growers battle rain |

It’s not the worst first-cutting of Columbia Basin hay on record but many days of rain kept it from being the best.

While the earliest alfalfa and Timothy were top quality before rains, most it was rained on or held so long to avoid cutting in rain that it became over mature, growers said. Either way quality suffered.

“It’s been a challenge,” Mark Charlton, 48, an Ellensburg grower, said June 28. “We’re probably a week to two weeks behind where we’d like to be. The crop is getting mature so it’s a race against time. We’re cutting like crazy now.”

A lot of Ellensburg growers had Timothy hay down when rains came. Charlton had some down near George that he was able to rake and bale without it being “total junk,” he said. But he held two-thirds of his acreage, his home area at Ellensburg, waiting out the rain.

As July started, a heat wave added a race against dryness to the race against over maturity.

Some 85 miles to the east, Shawn Clausen, 36, of Warden, said the first 30 percent of his alfalfa crop was rained on, but made fair quality feeder hay for cattle. The rest was a little too mature, good color but lower relative feed value, he said.

Cut 10 days later than optimum timing, it made good but not premium export hay, he said.

Much of the upper Columbia Basin faired the same, he said.

Clausen was planning to start second-cutting July 1. “It’s looking good but the height isn’t there because of cold weather,” he said. “But if I’m going to get four cuttings I have to go.”

Tonnage will be down in second-cutting but relative feed value should be up, he said.

“Color means more than test because second grows so fast. It doesn’t put milk in the tank as well, so green dry sells better export,” Clausen said.

“I like cutting after a big rain,” he said. “It usually opens a good weather window of two to three weeks.”

That’s the time he needs, he said, to get his 1,900 acres cut.

One exporter said he was too frustrated to talk since hay was testing poorly everywhere.

Another exporter, Mark T. Anderson, president of Anderson Hay & Grain Co., Ellensburg, said a lot of hay was cut late at low test. He said 30 to 40 percent of first-cutting Timothy remained to be cut as of June 28 and definitely is over mature.

“Time will tell if it’s as bad as last year or better,” Anderson said. “We will know more in a week or two what volume we have for export on Timothy.”

Some growers won’t have enough equipment to get it all harvested as fast as they need to, he said.

In Ellensburg, Timothy is usually two cuttings and in the basin alfalfa is usually four. First-cutting has been rained on the past four years with the most devastating in 2010.

Timothy goes to Japan for race horses and to Japan and South Korea for dairies. Normally, not much is sold domestically but what is will be feeder hay, Anderson said.

Exporters will have to take lesser quality in Washington and reach more into Idaho and other states to meet demands, he said.

“The market has been inactive with all this weather (rain),” he said. “Japan and Korea have the pressure on price. It will be interesting how they look at marginal hay.”

Last year Japanese demand was stronger on second-cutting, he said, because of radiation from failed nuclear power plants. This year, demand may be less because of less Japanese-government subsidy, he said.