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east central mn drought, hay

By Heather Carlile

hcarlile@agrinews.com

Central Minnesota producers are feeling the effects from last year’s drought in a new kind of shortage: There’s not enough hay to go around.

"The concern going into this growing season (is there’s) not a lot of existing hay supply," said Krishona Martinson, regional director of the University of Minnesota Extension office in Mora.

Martinson is also a member of the University of Minnesota Forage Team and is on the board of directors for the Midwest Forage Association.

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"It was very devastating," Martinson said of last year’s drought in the region. "There were some farmers that had zero yield."

Ryan Carpenter, an Isanti hay producer and seller, estimates he lost half of his hay production.

He was sold out by September through direct marketing to horse owners in the area.

Isanti’s drought was considered severe — a one- in 10-year event — but Isanti wasn’t hit the worst.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 24 Minnesota counties a primary natural disaster area in August.

East Central Livestock Auction in Mora has a hay auction every Wednesday at noon.

Brent Basser, the owner and operator, said all the hay that comes in sells and prices are as high as he’s ever seen them.

The price spike has been documented at Sauk Centre Quality Tested Hay Auction, where average hay prices were $100 a ton higher in 2007-2008 than the previous five-year average.

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Prices reached as high as $320 per ton for medium squares with a relative feed value of 176-200 in late March.

The same type sold last March for $150 per ton. Prices are documented by University of Minnesota Extension.

Carpenter doesn’t expect last year’s drought to affect his hay yield this year, but the sandy soils in his region need rain every 10 days.

His alfalfa appears to have survived the winter. Martinson said east central Minnesota is starting to green up, but in general it’s too early to tell if there is winterkill.

For producers in need of hay, Martinson said the best thing to do is to plan ahead.

Establish a good working relationship with a hay supplier to get a consistent and reliable source of hay, consider adding hay storage space to avoid seasonal fluctuations in price, buy hay early, plan for the price increase in your budget and re-evaluate how many animals you can afford to feed.

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