Wet weather | High quality horse hay is hard to find in Alberta this year
Barry Thomson estimates $100,000 is missing from his pocket this year.
Rain and humidity in central Alberta have turned his horse hay into cow hay and robbed him of premium prices.
“It’s been raining all summer and the colour just deteriorates and you get brown hay,” said Thomson, who has listed his mixed alfalfa, timothy, and orchard grass hay on Alberta Agriculture’s hay listing website for $40 to $50 per round bale.
Last year he exported 20,000 square bales of high quality hay to Florida for the horse market. A good square bale will fetch $6.50 in Florida and about a dollar less on the local horse market.
Thomson started haying his 450 acres of hay land July 6 and still had 150 acres to do eight weeks later.
“We’ve had half a day’s baling yesterday. It was our first good run we’ve had at baling all year,” said Thomson, who farms near Cremona, Alta.
This year, he baled 10,000 small square bales, but most of the hay was baled with a round baler and will be sold to producers willing to buy good but not top quality hay.
Thomson has heard reports of good round bales selling for $100 each.
“That’s unheard of.”
In previous years, the top price of a good round bale might have been $70.
A combination of rain and humidity has hampered hay production this year in many regions, making it tough to put up good green hay.
Thomson checks the television, computer and a phone-in weather service every day to monitor humidity levels and showers in the forecast.
It takes about five days of good weather to cure the hay after it’s cut, possibly less with straight timothy hay.
He said humidity levels also seem higher than normal this year. They may be around 59 percent at Cremona compared to 36 percent down the road in Calgary.
“It just seems in the past few years it has been more humid than usual,” he said, which doesn’t allow the hay to dry enough to bale.
Ron Taks of Bowden, Alta., listed his hay for sale on Alberta Agriculture’s hay listing service Aug. 28 and is hoping for good money.
“It’s hard to find good hay. Good hay is going to be at a premium,” said Taks, who is offering his mixed grass hay for $75 for a 1,000 pound bale with no rain damage.
With frequent showers, Taks doesn’t know what the rest of his hay will be like as he fights with the weather.
“I still got lots to put up, but I’m going backwards every day.
“Mine is better than the black stuff. It’s a very challenging year. The people who have hay can’t get it up and the people who don’t have hay, it won’t rain.”
Norman Robins of Rivers, Man., is selling greenfeed and looking for hay. He sold some greenfeed to his neighbour for $50 a bale but has yet to find reasonably priced hay to buy.
“You’ve got to be fair to your neighbour,” said Robins.
“We have piles of greenfeed.… We had good rain, and the feed went up in really good shape.”
Ted Nibourg, a business management specialist with Alberta Agriculture, said producers are struggling to find the ideal price point. Prices range from three to 10 cents a lb. for hay.
Early cut hay with more grass ranges from four to five cents a lb. and second cuts with more alfalfa and no rain damage are 10 cents.
Nibourg believes it will be the end of October before hay prices settle out and producers can adjust their prices. The past two years of hard winter have depleted the hay supply, making farmers nervous about going into the winter with not enough hay for their livestock.
“There is a bit of a hay shortage,” said Nibourg.
However, an early frost and hail can turn a promising grain crop into greenfeed or silage, which reduces the demand for hay.
Cattle numbers will also influence hay prices.
Statistics Canada reports a decrease in cattle numbers and heifer retention. With high calf prices, Nibourg doesn’t know how many producers will ship their calves to market rather than background them over winter, which will reduce the demand for hay.