Every day it refused to rain in June, the coffeeshop talk about how high hay prices either already were or might go to seemed to soar. Actual prices we're aware of and could document top out at $4 per small, square bale. Rumored prices first went to $7, at 'some' auction, always a vague description, but then went even higher. The last 'rumor' story we heard claimed someone paid $10 per bale.
Now if you've got hay to sell, you're likely inclined to track such a story down. But if you've got hay to sell that's not already committed either for your own use or for existing customers, you're likely in the minority. Actual reports form Purdue University's Keith Johnson estimate first cutting reductions at 30 to 70%m depending upon where you are in the state and how much rain you received in May and June.
Lack of rain isn't the only variable that has hammered Indiana's hay crop. Many fields, particularly in the southern half of Indiana, were hammered by the severe freeze in mid-April. While those fields made a comeback, that meant quite a bit of material killed in the freeze went into the first cutting. SO not only is quantity short, but quality may be suspect in some cases.
The only thing arguing for good quality is that plenty of dry weather has made it possible to get up whatever hay you have without getting it wet, in most cases. Most sources also report many mornings with little or no dew so far this summer. That also is a plus for haymaking. Reports of folks baling hay as early as 9:30 a.m. have been circulated this summer.
Another trend shaping up is the 'harvest anything and everything syndrome.' One hay producer who will hustle to fulfill half of his client list says many people are baling grass hay or even grass and weeds off spots that would otherwise be cut with a rotary mower and left in a more normal year. One hay grower even reports having a potential customer rife with him, just to make sure he was willing to take the 'hay' made from a weedy patch, before he mowed, raked and baled it.
One central Indiana dairyman says they have only half of the amount of forage harvested as they normally do at this time. What hurt them as much as anything was the second cutting. "It looked like a fourth cutting usually does, one where you must decide if it's worth harvesting or just leaving," he says.
Unless the second half of summer provides a turn-around in rainfall and hay fortunes, hay could definitely be a valuable commodity this winter. It could also be a winter with quite variable hay quality. Purdue and other sources are already urging people to test their hay and know what the quality level is so they know how to supplement it properly this year.
Johnson also reminds hay producers to not forget to fertilize fields. Just because it's not a favorable hay season doesn't mean that the fields don't need attention, including proper fertilization. This also applies to pastures, he notes.
And if you're one paying that high price for a bale of hay, remember this: one hog man who is out of corn said, "It could be worse- you could be paying $4 per bushel of corn."