Hay market getting scary

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There is absolutely nothing out there right now for good quality hay, says Norman Beach, with the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association in California.

To supplement that void, hay is being brought into California from other states such as Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. Bringing in hay from other states is commonplace in California, but what’s uncommon is that hay has been coming in since mid-summer. “Guys start to panic when they come to the realization that the news reports are true – hay is hard to come by,” says Beach.

Adding to the anxiety of hay availability have been recent news reports that it is cheaper to ship hay overseas to China than it is to the Central Valley of California. According to the Central Valley Business Times, the estimated cost of shipping alfalfa hay to China from Long Beach is $16 to $25 per ton. To ship alfalfa hay by truck from the Imperial Valley to Tulare, Calif., the cost ranges from $45 to $50 per ton.

Hay isn’t expected decline from the $315 to $325 per ton price range anytime soon. Forecasts for next season’s crop aren’t expected for a few more months, but Beach says it doesn’t look like is going to get better. “There are just too many competing crops.”

California dairymen aren’t the only ones impacted. News reports from across the country report on the struggle that dairymen and cattle feeders everywhere face to find hay.

One of the few places that hay is in ample supply is Wyoming. “We’ve had an excellent hay season with lots of rain,” says Donn Randall, Crop and Forage Program Manager with the Wyoming Business Council. “Normally, we don’t send much hay down south, but hay has been heading to Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma this year.”

Although there is hay available, the unfortunate part is that most of the hay in Wyoming is made into round bales and not high quality hay. “Round bales make it difficult to ship, but the demand for hay is high enough that people are even buying and shipping round bales,” notes Randall.

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Robin Newell    
Johnston, IA  |  September, 20, 2011 at 09:57 AM

How can hay be shipped economically from places like Wyoming or Montana to California's central valley? For a long haul like that, rail transportation could be a viable option. A recent report reveals 17.8% of rail cars are still in storage following the US recession, so rail capacity is not constrained right now. But it will require a savvy hay broker to negotiate multiple carload rates, and to line up supply chain timing on both ends of the rail haul!

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