First cutting of hay delayed

A producer mows first-cutting hay Monday in a field along Highway 16 east of Buffalo. Cool, wet spring weather has not affected the grass hay crop, and producers report it is above average. However, heat-loving alfalfa crops may be hurt by the unseasonable weather.

An unseasonably cool, wet May and June has put the first cutting of hay slightly behind schedule in Johnson County and Wyoming.

“It’s at least two weeks behind,” said Blaine Horn, University of Wyoming Extension rangeland educator. “Maybe as much as three.”

Horn said that, as a rule, the third week of June is when producers start cutting hay. This year, there is still a lot of hay to be cut in the county.

That is consistent with what is happening across the state. According to the most recent crop progress report from the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service, for the week ending June 30, 46% of first-cutting alfalfa in the state had been harvested. Typically, by the last week in June, 67% of first-cutting alfalfa has been harvested.

“The alfalfa’s set back a little bit – it’s a warm season forage. But we’ll come out of it all right, I think,” said Larry Vignaroli, a Johnson County hay producer.

Vignaroli said his operation has baled about 120 acres and has an additional 40 acres cut.

“We’re just waiting for it to dry out under the raindrops,” he said.

Hay production is a $12.9 million dollar business in Johnson County, with producers putting up more than 94,900 tons of hay, according to the 2018 Wyoming Agricultural Statistics bulletin. It’s the county’s second-largest agricultural product by dollar volume, behind only beef.

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While the weather may be slowing the harvest, it has not adversely impacted the volume of the grass hay, according to Vignaroli.

“The grasses are taller than normal, and volume is higher, no doubt about that,” he said. “I haven’t seen the test results yet; I just suspect it’ll be really good.”

Travis Rule said that the hay crop is a bit of a mixed bag – the grass hay crop looks above average. The alfalfa hay, on the other hand, may not even be average.

“It was awful cool this spring,” Rule said. “Alfalfa likes the hot, hot weather.”

Rule said the hay is ready to cut, but he has been waiting for the weather pattern to settle down to avoid rain on the cut hay.

“I expect to cut here in a couple days,” he said. “The 10-day forecast looks OK.”

Once producers get their hay up, the local market looks good, Rule said, particularly for higher quality hay, which may be hard to come by since a lot of cut hay has been rained on.

“There’s good demand for hay in this area,” Rule said.

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The latest hay report from the USDA Wyoming Department of Ag Market News reported that prices have held steady on “good demand” from out-of-state buyers looking for small and large square bales.

Prices reported from central and western Wyoming ranged from $160 per ton for good, new crop alfalfa large squares to $200 per ton for mixed grass new crop small squares.

“It’s obviously a buyer’s market,” Vignaroli said. “Everybody’s got hay in their backyard, so they’re reluctant to pay more for it. There will probably be a market for it later on, but it’s pretty flat at this point.”

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