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California alfalfa growers still face impact of high temps

While the recent 110 to 115 temperatures in California have cooled for now, the short and long-term impact on state alfalfa growers could be a mixed bag, according to Seth Hoyt, senior agricultural economist with the California office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“The largest impact of the heat and drought was on California dairies and dairy cows are the largest users of alfalfa,” he said. “Dairy farmers are currently resisting higher alfalfa prices because of milk losses.”

The short and long-term impact on alfalfa is a mixed bag. Hoyt talked with one alfalfa producer whose crop was scalded as the crop was in the irrigation cycle when the hot temperatures arrived. If there was enough scalding, he added, the alfalfa crop this fall could be less than fall predictions. Dairy hay buying patterns historically were to pay cash for hay for a four to five month supply, he noted. Now many dairymen are buying short term – 30 to 45 days.

Prices for dry cow hay could be better in the fall than earlier predictions, Hoyt said. During the hot weather, consumption was down so some impact might be felt.

Yet there may be a silver lining for alfalfa growers and dairy producers – milk prices. “There is some talk about milk prices increasing. If dairy farmers return to profitability in the first half of 2007, they might be more aggressive when buying higher quality alfalfa hay in the spring,” Hoyt said. Such movement could mean more dollars in the alfalfa’ farmers’ pockets.

Various reports have placed heat wave-related dairy cow losses at about 16,500 cows or about one percent of the dairy population. Hoyt said milking cows were hit the hardest and death loss was less in dry cows. “If cows were calving, it was hard on them as well.”

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