9/26/2012 8:49:00 AM Horsemen, ranchers could see high hay prices again this winter
Review/Matt Santos Cole Rhea has been working at Olsenís Grain in Chino Valley for several months. The 17-year-old who has been working with livestock his entire life says he has noticed a steady rise in hay prices this past year.
Heidi Dahms-Foster Former Editorial Manager
Correction: A Sept. 26 story about hay prices stated that Olsen's Grain sells a 3-string bale of orchard grass hay for $15.99.
That is the price for a 3-string bale of alfalfa.
Olsen said he expects the price for the alfalfa bale to reach $18.99 this winter.
Area ranchers and horse owners again will see higher hay prices this winter, with the rise driven partially by the Midwest drought and fuel prices, as well as the demand of exports.
Quad-city farmers and feed salespeople say the drought and high fuel prices are part of the reason the price for a 3-twine bale of alfalfa hay (about 100 lbs.) may reach to near $20 each in the next few months. But exports overseas have been a factor in the price increase for the past two years, to the point that some areas are expecting difficulty getting hay at all.
Hay & Forage Grower online in June stated that U.S. alfalfa exports rose 14 percent from 2010 to 2011. China bought more than 177,000 metric tons of U.S. alfalfa, up from 140,000 metric tons in 2010. The site stated that the Chinese have continued the buying trend into 2012, purchasing more than half of all the alfalfa they bought in 2011 in the first quarter of this year.
Other online sources stated that in 2011 it was cheaper to ship hay overseas than within the U.S. because shippers could not fill containers returning to their home ports.
Hay sellers and growers here say they are not having a problem getting hay, but supply and demand drives the prices, and they are expecting prices to rise even higher this winter than last.
Olsen's Grain, which sells hay in Prescott, Chino Valley and Dewey-Humboldt, purchases its supplies from several sources in the Buckeye and Phoenix areas, and some from Colorado, said Mike Olsen. A Chino Valley grower also supplies some of the hay.
Olsen said he hasn't experienced a shortage of hay but agreed that a strong export market is driving up the prices. For a business like his that must haul in hay, fuel prices also make a big difference. Currently, he said, he sells a 3-string bale of orchard grass hay for $15.99. But in a couple more months, he said, he expects the price to reach $18.99. The average horse consumes about a bale per week.
"People get concerned that hay is so expensive up here. But freight is very expensive, so hay will be higher here than in Buckeye or Phoenix," he said.
Weather also can be a factor in hay quality and subsequently, pricing. The valley experienced some severe monsoon storms this season, and that affects the quality of hay.
"It's always a challenge with hay to have a perfect bale. It's subject to a lot of factors. We always try to have the highest quality we can get," Olsen said.
Norm Freeman of Chino Valley's Freeman Farms said he grows the hay he uses to feed about 30 horses and other livestock. But fuel prices are making things more expensive for him to produce the hay, even though he doesn't have to haul it.
"Diesel fuel is so high, it costs me $120 to fill my tractor with gas. We're baling hay right now and with diesel over $4, it's really expensive," he said.
He is concerned that high hay prices force people to sell or even abandon their horses.
"When hay is $20 a bale folks can't afford to keep their horses," he said. "People dump them. That's a cruel death."
Though central Arizona has a shorter growing season than the valley, growing locally would cut out the cost of freight, and Freeman said he'd like to see Chino Valley designate an agriculture district, both for local, fresh produce and to help draw people to the community.
Gary Mortimer grows hay on a big scale at four locations of Mortimer Family Farms - the former Young's Farm in Dewey-Humboldt, Chauncey Ranch, Ash Creek Ranch and most recently, Orme Ranch.
He bales, among an assortment of hay, an orchard grass/alfalfa mix that is popular with local horsemen, in 1,500 lb. rounds or squares.
"The big rounds are faster to bale and easier to move through the fields. The squares are nicer for transport on semis that we ship out of state," he said.
Currently the orchard grass/alfalfa bales sell for $225, and the straight alfalfa for $275. He expects prices this winter rise higher than last.
"From last summer to winter prices went up 25 percent. This past spring they went down about 10-15 percent. We're expecting hay this winter to surpass last winter."
Mortimer said dairies are the biggest consumers of hay, followed by horse owners and then cattle ranchers.
Cattle can tolerate a little lesser quality hay, he said, so ranchers can purchase it for a better price.
The Midwest drought also is affecting how much hay is shipped out of Arizona this winter, he said.
"Winter is always the peak of the hay market. Even the lower elevations can produce only nine-10 months of the year, and get nine-10 cuttings. Here, we have seven months to produce and get six cuttings. Once that's over then the only hay available is what has been stored. That makes more handling expenses," he said.
Mortimer said he would be doing the last hay cutting for his farms in October.
Hay prices are particularly hard for individual horse owners and those trying to rescue horses.
Deniece McAnulty, president of the Granite Mountain Riders women's horse club, said people in her organization generally adjust to hay prices going up and down. But because she is familiar with the horse community, she knows that high hay prices, along with a poor economy, caused many people literally to give horses away because they couldn't feed them.
"It seems like that has kind of turned around now," she said.
Cheryl Caldararo of Circle L Ranch rescue in Prescott Valley said rising hay prices take away from other needs. The ranch feeds more than 30 horses, and more than 100 goats and nine head of cattle.
"(Rising hay prices) hurts us really bad," Caldararo said. "We rely on donations, and they've been down in this economy. We go through a lot of feed, and we're just getting by. It takes away from everything else we may need, because we have to feed, we have no choice."