Oregon Hay Grower Rebounds From Late Start | MARKETING content from Hay & Forage Grower

A season-long battle with wet weather crimped hay quality for many growers in northeastern Oregon during 2013. But Mark Butterfield, who grows timothy and alfalfa hay on 650 acres near Joseph, says higher yields more than make up for it.

Early summer rains delayed Butterfield’s first timothy cutting by five days, and he was about a week late starting first-crop alfalfa. The past two weeks, he again waited out the weather to start second-cut timothy and third-cut alfalfa. “Ordinarily, we’d be wrapping up for the year right about now.”

But his yields are likely to be substantially higher this year compared to normal. “We should end up getting 6 tons/acre on our alfalfa and about the same on our timothy. For both crops, that’s a ton more than we ordinarily get. Quality is off some, but the increased tonnage should more than make up for that.”

Butterfield, president of the Wallowa County Hay Growers Association, markets 3 x 4 x 8’ hay bales to export buyers, dairies and beef feedlots. “Demand is strong right now, and the prices are pretty good across the board.”

Currently, his first-crop timothy is bringing $245-260/ton at the farm. Last year, his top price was $245. “We were some of the last people to get going (on first crop), but we hit the right weather window. The weather damage in other parts of the region helped out with the price.”

He’s still waiting to price his alfalfa, but figures his test and top-quality export hay should bring at least $200/ton. Feeder hay will fetch above $175/ton. “Overall, I’d say it’s shaping up as a pretty good year.”

Butterfield can be reached at mbutter.

Washington State Testing Alfalfa for GMO Contamination | GMO Labeling

Agriculture officials in Washington state are testing samples of alfalfa after a farmer reported his hay was rejected for export because it tested positive for a genetically modified trait that was not supposed to be in his crop.

If it is confirmed that the alfalfa in question was genetically modified, it could have broad ramifications, said Hector Castro, spokesman at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

“It’s a sensitive issue,” Castro said.

Biotech alfalfa is approved for commercial production in the United States. But many foreign and domestic buyers require that supplies not be genetically modified, and the possible presence of GMO modified alfalfa in export supplies could result in lost sales for U.S. farmers.

Just this summer, Japan and South Korea temporarily stopped buying some U.S. wheat because an experimental biotech variety was found growing in a field of conventional wheat in Oregon.

Alfalfa is the fourth-most widely grown U.S. field crop, behind corn, wheat and soybeans, and is used as food for dairy cattle and other livestock. The crop, worth roughly $8 billion, was grown on more than 17 million U.S. acres in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Exports of hay, including alfalfa, have been rising, hitting a record $1.25 billion in 2012, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Washington state is one of the largest producers of alfalfa for export.

The Washington farmer, who could not be reached for comment by Reuters, reported the problem to state agriculture officials in late August, according to Castro. The department began testing his alfalfa samples on September 3 and should be finished by Friday, Castro said.

He said it is not clear if the farmer bought seed that was genetically modified and mislabeled or if his field was contaminated by some other means. And testing could reveal no contamination at all, he noted.

Monsanto Co developed the herbicide-tolerant genetic trait that gives alfalfa and other crops the ability to withstand treatments of its Roundup weedkiller, and has maintained that its biotech alfalfa presents no danger to conventional or organic growers.

Many U.S. farmers have embraced Roundup Ready crop varieties as aids to improve crop production.

Genetically modified “Roundup Ready” alfalfa was approved by USDA in 2011 to be planted without restrictions after several years of litigation and complaints by critics.

GMO opponents have warned for more than a decade that, because alfalfa is a perennial crop largely pollinated by honeybees, it would be almost impossible to keep the genetically modified version from mixing with conventional alfalfa. Cross-fertilization could devastate conventional and organic growers’ businesses, they said.

But even though U.S. regulators have deemed biotech alfalfa to be as safe as non-GMO varieties, many foreign buyers will not accept the genetically modified type because of concerns about the health and environmental safety of such crops.

ACX Pacific – a major exporter of alfalfa and other grass hay off the Pacific Northwest to countries that include Japan, Korea, China and parts of the Middle East – will not accept any GMO because so many foreign buyers are so opposed to it.

And domestic organic dairy farmers have said that any contamination of the hay they feed their animals could hurt their sales.

“This is terribly serious,” said Washington state senator Maralyn Chase, a Democrat who fears alfalfa exports could be lost if it is proven that GMO alfalfa has mixed in with conventional supplies.

The possibility of alfalfa contamination comes as Washington state voters weigh a ballot initiative that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.


Midwestern Alfalfa Hay Prices Slide In July | MARKETING content from Hay & Forage Grower

Alfalfa hay prices dropped sharply during July in several Midwestern states, now that the 2013 harvest season is underway in earnest, according to a recent USDA Agricultural Prices report.

Wisconsin reported the steepest monthly decline among the 27 reporting states. At $195/ton, the average alfalfa hay price received by state farmers in July was down by $80/ton from that of the previous month. But it was still $60/ton higher than in July of 2012.

In Minnesota, the average price dropped by $55/ton in July to $185/ton. Producers in South Dakota saw prices dip $47/ton, also to $185/ton.

Compared to the previous month’s prices, alfalfa prices increased in July in just six states – Colorado, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah.

For the U.S. as a whole, the average alfalfa hay price was $209/ton in July. That’s down by $11/ton from the previous month’s average, but up $11/ton from the July 2012 price. The U.S. all-hay average price in July was $190/ton, down from $199/ton in June. In July of last year, the average all-hay price was $184/ton.


Demand high for Montana hay; buyers pay top dollar

He’s the guy on the “other side.” The one whose grass is greener. And it turns out that when pastures in neighboring states go brown, hay farmer Chris Skorupa’s wallet sprouts lettuce, too.

Montana hay is selling for a premium this year in drought-bit Western states and the Midwest, where lingering winter temperatures wilted spring alfalfa like bagged spinach from a deep freeze.

Depending on quality, producers are getting $180 to $250 a ton. Shipping not included. Irrigated hay is rolling out of the state every direction but north.

“It’s really good, phenomenally good hay this year,” said Skorupa, who splits his time between the family farm and his Beartooth Fertilizer company between Roberts and Red Lodge. “The stuff had slower growth out of the gate, but it didn’t hurt anything.”

Most days, he takes a turn cutting alfalfa on the family farm, while his father bales and his 90-year-old grandfather applies water drawn from the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. Along this stretch of the river near Bridger, the fields are the deep green of 68-day corn, sugar beets and alfalfa. The non-irrigated hills are sage and beige.

If there’s a dirt bike racing up Highway 312, it’s likely driven by old farmer in rubber boots with a muddy irrigation spade poking upward like a mast.

Every now and then a semitrailer rolls through, looking for another load of hay. At Skorupa’s, the trucks are mostly hauling to central and southwestern Idaho, which has been gripped by severe drought. Twin Falls has

received less than three inches of rain since the end of January. That’s put the Idaho dairy industry in a pinch. Dairy cattle require the highest quality hay for milk production and Idaho has raised little this summer.

Cow-calf operations also are hurting for hay. Premium timothy grass hay was selling for $275 a ton in Idaho last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Market News. Even mixed grass hay of fair quality is selling for $165 a ton.

Hay demand is high in most farm states because of persistent drought now in its third year. A rancher usually has hay stacked to keep his cows fed for several months to a year if the sky dries up. Many ranchers in Montana had enough hay from a bumper crop in 2011 to keep their cattle fed through the early spring of this year. But once the haystack disappears, it’s time to either pay the dinner bill or begin liquidating livestock.

Howdy Hildebrand is a have-hay-will-travel kind of guy who farms near Fromberg. In 2011, he was trucking hay 1,400 miles one way to Texas, where drought was forcing a massive sell-off of hungry cows and calves that the American beef industry still hasn’t fully

recovered from.

Prices that summer ranged from $110 to $150 a ton for hay good enough to keep a cow in milk and her young calf bulking up to 450 to 650 pounds in preparation for sale. This year Hildebrand is selling hay into Colorado and Idaho. After continuous dry years, hay demand has increased and so has the price.

Roughly 60 percent of Colorado is in extreme drought, according to U.S. Drought Monitor. Large square bales of alfalfa were selling for $250 to $300 a ton, depending on quality. Large grass bales were selling for $200 to $215 a ton, though USDA Market News noted that prices were beginning to soften.

Right now in the Yellowstone drainage, hay trade is closer to normal, as regular rains throughout summer have boosted pastures and given dryland farmers something to bale.

“Here in the Clarks Fork Valley, a good average is $135 to $140 for general hay, decent hay,” Hildebrand said.

Drought clobbered southern Montana in 2012 and many farms and ranches failed to produce any hay if their land wasn’t irrigated, Hildebrand said. By last winter, ranchers with hungry cows and no bales stacked were turning to the north for hay, traveling as far as Canada to get it.

“Last year nobody had anything,” Hildebrand said. “The further north you went, there was all kinds of hay, but it seemed like every 50 miles you drove it went up $20 a ton.”

John Mahon, who farms hay near Billings, has been selling his crop into Wisconsin and Minnesota. Drought hit the area last year when Wisconsin hay production was down to 37 percent of normal. Cold, wet weather destroyed the 2013 crop. Hay in storage was at a 50-year low.

Local hay buyers won’t show up until fall, Skorupa said. Most ranches managed to cut a dryland hay crop this summer, unlike last year, when the drought-stunted grasses weren’t worth the trouble for many. Those buyers will be looking to supplement whatever they’ve raised.

Still, the burn of the 2012 drought hasn’t left southern Montana. Few if any ranchers have hay stacked from previous years. After chewing through reserves last year, ranchers will be thinking about running short again.

A meal ticket of $135 to $140 a ton for cow-calf operations is likely.

Even Skorupa is concerned about getting caught short on hay for his own cattle next spring. The green side of the equation is the place to be.


Alfalfa, Grass Seed Supplies Tight | Alfalfa content from Hay & Forage Grower

Don’t take for granted that you’ll be able to buy what you want in alfalfa or cool-season grass seed varieties if planting this summer or fall, warn seed company representatives.

“In general, seed is going to be short for grasses, alfalfa and small grains,” says Chad Hale, Byron Seeds research and acquisitions manager and president of the American Forage & Grassland Council.

That’s in part due to the amount of seed directed to the Upper Midwest after many growers found their alfalfa and grass winterkilled this spring. Nearly 1 million alfalfa acres in Wisconsin and another 750,000 acres in Minnesota were lost from winter damage, according to Extension Service reports.

For seed companies, those losses meant “outstanding” spring sales, says Dave Robison, forage and cover crop manager for Legacy Seeds. “We say that wishing it hadn’t been that way, but because of the winterkill issues, we had nearly record alfalfa sales.”

“Extraordinary amounts of (alfalfa) seed went out this spring to dealers” in the Upper Midwest, agrees Matt Fanta, Forage Genetics International president. On top of winter damage, growers there contended with wet weather that slowed and even prevented plantings.

“I think because of the combination of potential weed issues, the late planting dates and the need to produce as much high-quality forage as possible in the seeding year, we’ve seen really strong use and adoption of Roundup Ready alfalfa in those areas,” Fanta says. Roundup Ready alfalfa seed has traditionally seen much of its demand in the West, he adds.

Generally, growers shouldn’t expect to see all of their favorite conventional or transgenic alfalfas well at hand in fall, say Fanta and Robin Newell, DuPont Pioneer senior business manager for forages and National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance chair.

“Whenever you get toward the end of the year, you always have a variety or two that gets on the short side,” Newell says.

“We have a fair-to-good supply of all our varieties, especially our hybrid alfalfa,” reports Dairyland Seed’s forage product manager, Tim Clark. He encourages growers to order seed early.

Robison calls alfalfa supplies “tight. People will find that their favorite varieties may be sold out already or soon will sell out.”

“We’re going into the fall planting period with a much lower-than-average carryover position,” adds Cal West Seeds General Manager Paul Frey.

Alfalfa seed inventories are planned a year or more ahead of time and involve “a lot of estimation,” he says. “We are purposefully planning to produce a specific percentage above what the market needs so that, if there is strong demand, the seed is there. Or, if we have a lower-than-expected yield for new (seed) crop, we’ve got a little reserve to draw from to meet the normal demand. You try to hit a sweet spot, and then Mother Nature throws you a curveball.”

The cool-season grass supply is “adequate,” Legacy Seeds’ Robison says. But he warns that meadow fescue and meadow bromegrass seed are in “extremely short supplies” because of seed-crop production failures.

Orchardgrass and tall fescue seed supplies will also be “somewhat tight until new crop is harvested” this fall, he says.

Italian ryegrass, which Robison saw increased use of as a cover crop or drilled into thinning or damaged alfalfa this spring, is in good supply. Annual ryegrass will be in “very good supply” as its late-August harvest approaches, he points out.

“There has been a lot of use of annual ryegrass, either for drought recovery or in cover cropping” this year, says Peter Ballerstedt, forage product manager for Barenbrug USA. “Last year some people sold out, so this year people are buying earlier.”

To complicate matters, some annual ryegrass seed sent to areas where growers were anticipating a break in the drought, or to areas where they were unable to get into fields, is sitting unplanted, he says.

Ballerstedt advises growers to check annual ryegrass seed availability soon, as well as that of other cool-season grasses they’re considering. “If you want improved varieties, and if you want them in any quantity, you need to be making arrangements to obtain them.”

That, Byron Seeds’ Hale says, also holds true for small grains used as forages.

“Small grains, it appears, are going to be shorter than they were last fall, so growers need to order soon if they want to get their favorite varieties,” he advises.