8/13/2011 10:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
Farmers who need to buy hay could be in for some sticker shock this year. A challenging growing season, higher corn prices and low carryover from 2009 is making hay a hot commodity this year.
According to the regional hay report posted Monday from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, alfalfa hay was selling for between $190 and $325 a ton in Lancaster County. In central and eastern Pennsylvania, prices were running $185 to $280 a ton and $130 to $210.
In a recent forage column, Marvin Hall, a Penn State forage specialist, said high grain prices have resulted in “marginal hay fields being rotated into grain production.”
Hall said hay prices across Pennsylvania are up about 20 percent from last year while the national average price for alfalfa hay has jumped nearly 50 percent.
USDA reports that U.S. hay acreage is the smallest it’s been in more than a century. According to the most recent report from the Pennsylvania office of National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), hay quality overall is pretty good with 44 percent rated as good and another 24 percent as excellent.
Scott Rushe, president of the Pennsylvania Forage and Grassland Council, said that in his travels some pockets of the state have enough forages, but for most of the state there is a shortage.
Adding to the challenge is that Pennsylvania is not the only state looking for hay. Rushe said several of the drought-stricken states, such as Texas, are looking far and wide for hay. Farmers and ranchers in the hard-pressed areas are contracting for hay to sustain their livestock, purchasing not only harvested forage but also future crop harvests.
The hay challenge does not end just with the hay crop. Rushe said that seed supplies could be tight and farmers need to start planning ahead for their forage seed needs. The weather patterns that have affected forage crops have also reduced grass and clover seed production.
“If you can purchase (seed) now and put it in a secure area, I would,” he said.