Demand for Hay High After Double Whammy of Bad Weather

There's been no letup in demand for David Glover's hay crop from livestock producers with stunted pastures and hungry herds.

"I've gotten calls from everywhere," said Glover, who delivered a tractor-trailer load of alfalfa in Tennessee on Monday (July 16) and planned to haul another load to Alabama on Tuesday.

A drought in the Southeast has heightened demand for hay from producers like Glover. The downside is that a double whammy of bad weather in Kentucky curtailed production. First an April freeze, then a dry spell left Glover with only a third of his normal grass hay yield and about half of his usual alfalfa production.

"If you get it baled up, you don't have any problem selling it," said Glover, who farms in Todd and Christian counties near the Tennessee border.

In Kentucky, where 55% of the hay crop was rated poor or very poor by a crop-reporting service on Monday, the state is trying to hook up farmers needing hay with those looking to get rid of it.

The names of buyers and sellers who call a toll-free "Hay Hotline" will be listed on the state Department of Agriculture's Web site.

"These services could make the difference between holding on to livestock or having to sell," state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said in a news release.

University of Kentucky officials estimate forage losses of $45 million statewide because of the spring freeze combined with drought. Tom Keene, a hay marketing specialist with the university's College of Agriculture, said hay yields averaged about 50 percent of normal across Kentucky.

With smaller yields, hay prices have been on the rise amid earlier-than usual demand.

The lack of rainfall dried up pastures, forcing some producers to feed hay to their herds months sooner than normal. Recent rains improved the situation somewhat, Keene said.

Still, all of Kentucky is in a severe long-term drought, except for central sections, which are in moderate drought, said UK extension agricultural meteorologist Tom Priddy.

Another complicating factor for cattle and horse owners is that Kentucky's hay reserves were at their lowest levels in a half-century, mainly because of strong demand last year from farmers in the South, Keene said.

Ronnie Mann, a farmer in Grant County in northern Kentucky, said he's sold about 7,500 bales of hay, mostly to horse owners, in tandem with another hay producer. They have 15,000 more bales for sale, but Mann doesn't expect the stockpile to last for long.

"At the rate it's going, it could be cleaned out in the next month or six weeks," said Mann, whose hay yield was cut in half by the freeze and dry spell.

Most of Glover's customers have been in states south of Kentucky. He's charging $8 per bale, compared with $5 a year ago.

Glover said the higher price won't pad his bottom line. Besides sharply lower yields, he was hit with higher production costs for fuel and fertilizer, he said.

"I made more money last year at $5 (per bale) than I'll make this year at $8," he said.

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The Associated Press

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