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Buy baled alfalfa now to ensure supply

raclro/Getty Images square alfalfa bales in field
BUY NOW: If you can source a supply of baled alfalfa now, it likely makes sense to lay in those supplies.
Agrivision: Good-quality baled alfalfa hay will be harder to find this winter.

Is this a good time to buy hay, or should I wait until November or December? We milk 150 cows and grow all of our haylage and corn silage, but we purchase baled hay to feed our cows and heifers. Is there a good supply now? How much can I expect to pay?

Doug Hodorff: If you need high-quality baled hay for milk cows, I would suggest you secure a good supply as soon as you can. I am not sure of your total needs, but having the hay in inventory would secure a constant supply for your ration.

The price will be determined by your quality requirements. In our area, quality relative feed value alfalfa would be in the $175-to-$200-per-ton range delivered. Forage to feed heifers would be much less expensive. You should be able to access local hay to feed your heifers. High-quality alfalfa for milk cows can be much more of a challenge. When you are accessing quality alfalfa, stay firm on your quality.

Sam Miller:  Hay availability depends on local market conditions. With dry weather conditions in the Plains and other Western states, hay prices have moved up in those locations, and transportation costs make it even more expensive. Hay is more plentiful in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest as a whole, and availability is likely better. If you can source a supply now, it likely makes sense to lay in those supplies now.

As for the price, University of Wisconsin-Extension publishes a weekly Hay Market Demand and Price Report for the Upper Midwest. Mid-July prices averaged $234 per ton for large square bales at greater than 151 relative feed value. You can search Wisconsin hay prices or contact your local Extension agriculture agent to access the report.

Katie Wantoch: Brian Holmes, Extension ag engineer, reports the value of hay depends on what a willing buyer and a willing seller can agree upon. If you have to buy hay today, what would you give for it? If you wanted to sell hay today, what would you need to get for it? Feeding value (grass hay vs. alfalfa hay) influences the price, as does handling and feeding convenience. Depending on the animals being fed and the other ingredients in their ration, you as the producer buying hay will be looking for a specific type and quality of forage.

UW-Extension’s Team Forage agents publish a bimonthly Hay Market Demand and Price Report that would assist you in determining a fair market price. Hay purchased midyear could benefit from some form of protection throughout the year. It would be unrealistic to say that one option for storage is better than another. Individual farms should analyze each option and decide which works best for them. Factors like the availability and cost of labor and machinery, and the location of hay fields, storage sites and feeding sites all play an important role in determining the best storage option. Holmes has developed various spreadsheets to assist with analyzing storage costs further; they can be found on the Team Forage website, along with the hay market report.

Agrivision panel: Doug Hodorff, Fond du Lac County, Wis., dairy farmer; Sam Miller, managing director, group head of agricultural banking, BMO Harris Bank; and Katie Wantoch, Dunn County, Wis., Extension agricultural agent specializing in economic development. If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, send them to: Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919; or email [email protected].

TAGS: Forage Dairy
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