Wyoming farmers and ranchers are picking up bales of green grass hay and alfalfa and preparing to sell into a strong market as a cooler and wetter-than-normal spring and summer has impacted the crop.
Dennis Sun, publisher of Wyoming Livestock Roundup, said first cutting of alfalfa in many regions of the state got rained on, and he expects quality will be down and prices lower for alfalfa that doesn't test well.
He also said second cutting got put up without rain in most areas and yields are above average.
"A lot of Wyoming hay, if it tests good with high protein, will be shipped down to dairies in Colorado," Sun said, adding that “a lot of our high-altitude grass hay is sold to horse owners in Kentucky and other states."
Spring rains and summer thundershowers were abundant and soil moisture levels better than most years.
Sun added that the market should continue to be strong through fall because any hay stockpiles that existed on farms and ranches is likely to have been fed off during the extreme winter. Ranchers fed cattle longer this year than normal because of snow cover that stuck around through April in many areas of the state.
Grass hay and alfalfa are raised in numerous areas around Wyoming. Sun cited the Big Horn Basin, Wheatland area, Goshen County, Riverton area and Platte County as the state’s major hay producers.
Near Cokeville in Lincoln County is where a lot of the grass hay that is fed on Wyoming's 22 elk feedgrounds is contracted, Sun added.
Wyoming Farm Bureau spokesman Brett Moline said he hopes the hay market stabilizes at current prices because farm inputs costs across the board are up.
"They need good prices to break even," Moline said. "We are optimistic for the hay guys, cattleman and sheep ranchers. We think it will be a profitable year, but not record profits because of rising input costs."
A Late Start
Moline said the farmers he has talked with lately said the hay crop came on about a month later than normal. Any first cutting alfalfa that didn't get rained on is selling for over $200 per ton. Second crop is still coming in from the fields.
Some areas won't see a third cutting on alfalfa because of the late spring, he said.
"I'm hearing $220 and up, and it will depend on the packaging (size of bales)," Moline said. "I’m not hearing we will have record yields because of the late spring. Not getting a third cutting will knock the alfalfa yields back."
Farmers are happy with the dryland, high elevation grass hay that’s coming off fields in the western part of the state.
Travis Kynaston, who's helping a friend harvest in Sublette County this week, said yields are much better this year than the two previous years. He said crop quality is above average too.
Prices for good quality alfalfa in 3x4 bales in eastern Wyoming are fetching $200 per ton. Premium small square three-tie bales are trading for $300 to $325 per ton in western Wyoming, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Livestock Poultry and Grain Market News released Aug. 10.
Alfalfa/orchard grass mix, small square bales, premium quality in western Wyoming is selling for $300 a ton, while good quality grass in small square bales is $250.