Dale Leslein says it has been a record-setting year for hay prices at the Dyersville Sales Company.
However, that is not necessarily a good thing, says the auction company’s general manager.
“It’s been a historic year,” Leslein says. “During a time when hay prices generally go down in the summer, we had record-high prices in June, and that continued in July, August, September and October. Everyone lost at least one cutting because of the weather. Some guys are just finishing their second cutting.”
Much of the hay sold at the northeast Iowa market comes from northern Missouri, where drought conditions drastically cut into production.
“We’ve had a massive hay lift go down there. It’s pretty bad,” Leslein says.
He says quality varies, adding there is a shortage of dairy-quality hay in the Midwest.
“It’s been really wet in the Dakotas and Nebraska, too,” Leslein says. “They got their hay baled dry, but not in a timely manner.”
He expects even higher hay prices in 2019.
“New seedings have been totally lost,” Leslein says. “It’s a mess out there.”
Big round grass bale prices topped out at around $210 per ton, averaging between $150 and $200 per ton, Leslein says.
“CRP hay was bringing $180 per ton, thistles included,” he says. “Last week, large square bales averaged $243.75 per ton.”
While hay prices are high and supplies are short, pasture conditions are much improved across Iowa, says Erika Lundy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University.
She says two years of dry conditions in the southern part of the state have stressed pastures, leaving many concerned about next spring.
“Many producers had to sacrifice a paddock or two just to get by, and they are going to be facing weed pressure in the spring,” Lundy says.
Frost seeding may be an option yet this fall, she adds, but spring seeding would be a safer plan.
Several areas of the state lost alfalfa to winter kill this year, requiring new seeding.
“We have seen some cattle grazing alfalfa to take some of the pressure off the pastures this year,” Lundy says. “You’ll want to watch it over the winter.”
She says producers will likely need to supplement winter hay supplies with dry distillers and other feedstuffs. Lundy also suggests producer take hay samples to make sure gestating cows stay in condition.
“Spending a couple of bucks now is going to help make sure their diet isn’t suffering,” she says. “Something like dry distillers is a great supplement.”
Lundy says grazing cover crops could also be an option.
“We had a lot of silage cut in July and August due to dry weather, and many planted cover crops behind it,” she says. “It would be a nice forage to use before turning cows out on cornstalks, if you have that option.”