Rains Keep Washington Hay Growers From Fields | Alfalfa content from Hay & Forage Grower

Rains Keep Washington Hay Growers From Fields

The second cutting of alfalfa is under way in much of Washington, but recent rain has caused some decline in quality, says Chep Gauntt, a Pasco, WA, grower.

“It did damage equivalent to a lot of heavy dews. But there’s not been a lot put up yet,” says Gauntt, who, with his son, Drex, harvests 1,300 acres of alfalfa and timothy. About 90-95% of their center-pivot-irrigated crop is exported.

As second cutting progresses, the price for “really nice, double-compressed bales … might be $240-250/ton,” he estimates.

Alfalfa and timothy prices in the Columbia Basin have been steady, with good demand and light to moderate supplies available, according to the July 3 USDA Market News report.

Alfalfa large-square bale prices were, for supreme quality, $260-270/ton; for premium, $260/ton; good quality, $240-245/ton; and fair quality, $220/ton.

Large squares of timothy grass were priced at $270-280/ton for premium quality and $260-270/ton for good quality. Small squares of premium timothy traded at $280/ton. Small squares of premium orchardgrass sold for $260-275/ton.

To contact the Gauntts, email gaunttfarm or call 509-521-4245.

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.

Hay family weathers the storm | capitalpress.com

KITTITAS, Wash. — At about 3 p.m. the Charltons’ yellow Labrador retriever, Rocky, began howling.

Moments before, their son, Jonathon, 13, had come into the house and said the birds had stopped singing.

It was Saturday, June 29. A lot of timothy hay had just been cut in the Kittitas Valley, all around the Ellensburg area, in what looked like the start of good weather after several days of rain.

“I took Rocky into the mud room and couldn’t figure out why he was so traumatized,” Teddy Charlton said. “I went on Facebook and someone said they couldn’t believe the rain 15 miles southwest of us.”

Her husband, Mark, came in. He had just told a swather operator to stop cutting hay. Clouds had grown big and dark. It was hot. The wind blew.

Then the rain came in buckets, bringing hail with it. A neighbor, Linda Clerf, recorded 1.31 inches of rain in 30 minutes. The wind blew the roof off a barn in the valley and knocked apart hay bales.

Mark closed a window shade and told Teddy not to watch. She was crying in the knowledge the storm could spell severe crop loss.

Hay is big business in the West, which produces one-fifth of the nation’s hay crop. Last year’s crop was valued at nearly $4 billion in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. A single storm can damage a cutting of hay, costing growers up to $100 a ton in a few minutes.

This was one of those storms.

The Charltons’ other son, Michael, 21, ran into the house. A falling tree limb had struck him in the face and broke off one of his front teeth. Two large limbs pierced the roof and trees blew down at the north end of the house.

Lightning struck a neighbor’s house, setting it on fire. Mark was among the volunteer firefighters who responded.

Later, the Charltons found window screens from their house hundreds of feet away in their horse pasture, blown there by the wind.

Rain damage to hay was extensive throughout the valley. A neighbor, Rob Weber, said 75 percent of the first-cutting hay was damaged. Mark Anderson, 48, president and CEO of Anderson Hay and Grain, an Ellensburg exporter, said it was the worst damage he’s seen in the valley in his lifetime. The overall crop damaged was “a huge percentage,” Anderson said, but the extent varied widely from one field to another.

“It becomes our job at being really good at marketing and finding homes for hay and finding the most money we can for growers, given market conditions,” he said.

A silver lining for cattle ranchers was that a lot more feeder hay was available at low prices, Weber commented wryly.

Ten days later, on July 9, the Charltons had recuperated from the storm. They and their crew had harvested and stacked all the timothy hay that was browned and damaged. They had about five days remaining in one of their latest first-cuttings ever. The hay was now greener but also overmature.

Family pulls together

For the Charltons, as for many hay growers, the operation centers around the family. Each member plays a key role, along with the hired hands.

The day started with Mark checking fields. The Charltons’ daughter, Amber, 18, and crew member Matt Shields moved tractors and fluffers — also called tedders — from one field to another. Michael and hired hand Garth McCaleb ran harobeds picking up bales from the day before. Mark operated the squeeze, a large forklift, stacking 56, three-tie, 100- to 120-pound bales at a time in a shed.

“All the weather’s been a game changer, and what’s normally premium this year might not be,” Mark explained. “There can be over $100 (per ton) swings on price, and that’s the concern.”

The Charltons usually produce about 4,000 tons of first-cutting timothy and 1,500 to 2,000 tons of second-cutting on 1,000 acres, including 300 acres 35 miles to the east near George.

Much of the area’s timothy hay is exported to Japan. Exporters and Japanese customers had been sampling quality at numerous ranches for days. It’s a matter of how much they will take and at what price, Mark said.

“I’m not in any hurry (to sell) until I get all my crop in and evaluate it as a whole,” he said.

Amber and crew mate Faith Mehal spent the morning and into early afternoon fluffing the top field — the highest elevation visible from the house.

Amber piloted an open 1963 Oliver tractor. No windshield. No cab. Bouncing along at 6 to 7 mph in what peaked as a 90-degree day, Amber said the breeze at that speed kept her cool enough. She said she liked the old Oliver for its maneuverability.

She explained the hay lays opposite directions every other row because of how the swather cuts it and that she fluffs going against the heads to leave even and clean windrows.

“If you go with it, it balls up on the fluffer,” she said.

The fluffers had to ensure adequate spacing between pairs of windrows for balers and harobeds.

At a break in the cool of the house patio, Amber said she’s excited to be heading to Washington State University in the fall, is thinking of law school and would like to be a lobbyist for a farm organization like the Farm Bureau. She’s currently beef ambassador for the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, which is giving her a scholarship and having her speak about the beef industry at elementary schools.

At mid-morning an army of eight pea combines and a bankout wagon, from Del Monte in Toppenish arrived and began harvesting 90 acres of green peas. It’s the first time the Charltons have grown the crop and, Mark said, probably the first pea crop in the valley in 30 or 40 years for lack of processors.

Time for optimism

Mark Charlton, 49, is a fifth-generation farmer whose ancestors — the Charltons and Schneblys — homesteaded where he farms, a few miles north of Kittitas. He graduated from WSU in 1986 in agriculture mechanization and has been farming 26 years.

In addition to the hay acreage, the Charltons have 500 acres at Kittitas of peas, oats and field corn and 600 acres of irrigated pasture and additional leased rangeland for a cow-calf operation of 600 mother cows, predominately Angus. They have nine horses used in herding cattle. They have four, year-round farm hands, including a herdsman and a mechanic.

“The stress of managing your risk through input expense is a lot more than it use to be,” Mark said. “Sometimes it seems crazy what we do.”

Like any farmer, he has a lot to juggle. Crops, cattle, marketing and finances. Changes in labor laws makes it hard enough to employ anyone under 18 that he no longer does it. Regulations, he said, are why larger operations are getting larger.

“The most pessimistic farmer is an optimist. He just doesn’t realize it, otherwise he wouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

Recent state legislative passage of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan — developed by federal, state and local agencies — gives him hope, he said, for more stable water supply from the junior-water-right Kittitas Reclamation District.

“We’re always just a couple of droughts away from failure,” he said. “We got our first-cutting in the 2005 drought but our second was hurt.”

Teddy, short for Theodesia, 47, zipped along at 25 mph between windrows in her 2011 Jeep Wrangler to take lunch to Amber.

“I love my little Jeep,” she said, “it fits perfectly between the rows.”

Marked put a bow on its hood when he gave it to her on their 25th wedding anniversary on June 18.

Teddy spent her first 13 years on her parents’ cattle ranch in North Dakota. Then they moved to Kittitas for better weather and to be closer to doctors. Teddy had her own 9 acres, 28 heifers, was working and getting her degree in graphic design and painting at Central Washington University in Ellensburg when she met Mark.

“We had a whirlwind courtship. I didn’t know I was allergic to hay,” she said with a smile. She had a couple of episodes of anaphylactic shock before it was figured out. Jonathon is still treated for a hay allergy. Michael is less affected.

Teddy operated haying equipment in past years, but now fixes meals, runs errands and is Mark’s assistant.

Michael has been driving tractors since the sixth grade, is proficient in rodeo roping and branding and will be entering his senior year at WSU in agricultural technology and production management. He wants to ranch.

Jonathon is in his third year driving a baler and also has his eye on ranching.

In the shop, mechanic Kevin Tostenson, 31, was fixing a leaky fuel tank and broken timing chain on a 1968 Freeman baler. Except for a new swather and newer trucks, the fleet of equipment is mostly aged and keeps him busy.

“We started out with a tractor for each (haying) piece, but some of them found a spot in the shade,” he said.

Craig Saville, a new hire, arrived with his squeeze built from a 1996 garbage truck.

Fluffing took the morning and early afternoon. Mark checked the moisture content and deemed it acceptable to start baling about 3 p.m. Mark’s father, Paul, was part of the crew along with the rest of the family and hired hands running balers and harobeds until dark.

Back at the house, Teddy had a sirloin roast in salsa, a family favorite, waiting in a crockpot for when they were done.


Bad timing for rain during hay harvest

By Cheryl Schweizer,

Herald staff writer 1 hour ago

MOSES LAKE – It looked like 2013 would bring a pretty good hay harvest, not the best ever, but pretty good. Then it started raining.

June rains did a lot of damage to both alfalfa and timothy hay, according to industry experts. “Disaster,” said Don Schilling of Wesco International, a major hay exporter based in Ellensburg. “The rains were about as untimely as they could’ve been,” he said.

“It’s been a very tough harvest,” said Mark Anderson of Anderson Hay and Grain. “This is going to go down as one of the most difficult hay harvests in anybody’s memory,” Schilling said.

For people without much knowledge of hay and the hay market, local growers raise two distinctive types of hay, according to Schilling. Timothy hay is a grass, alfalfa is more of a flowering plant. A grower will get two crops of timothy hay per growing season, and three or four crops of alfalfa.

But whatever kind it is, rain is bad for hay when it falls at the wrong time. Hay that’s already cut but not packed into bales gets wet, which means it can start sprouting new growth or – even worse – get moldy, Anderson said. Hay that’s still growing can’t be cut when it’s wet, so the best time for harvesting it can roll right by while the hay is drying out.

Like any other commodity, harvesting at the right time is crucial, and hay that got wet or has been in the field too long doesn’t get the premium price, according to Schilling and Anderson.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks hay prices; the last weekly report, June 28, had the highest-quality timothy hay bringing an average of $272.50 per ton, and highest-quality alfalfa bringing an average of $227.50 per ton. But the price for alfalfa with rain damage was $163 per ton.

First cutting of any kind of hay is the most desirable, Schilling said. There is a market for all hay unless it’s gone moldy, “but the question is, what’s the price?” Schilling said.

About 30 to 40 percent of Columbia Basin hay is sold on the export market, Schilling said. Major customers are Japan, South Korea, China and countries in the Middle East.

Anderson said it’s still to early to tell exactly what it will all mean for the export market. “We just don’t know how that’s going to play out.”

Anderson said exporters were facing some challenges before the rains scrambled the market further. Japan is the biggest customer for premium hay, and the Japanese economy is slowing down. In addition, there was carryover from the 2012 crop, and some of it is still on the market, he said.


Columbia Basin hay growers battle rain | capitalpress.com

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.