Ranchers worry about possible hay shortage

Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico have suffered drought conditions this past year. Oklahoma is the driest on record since the 1930s. Already devastated by an ongoing drought, Texas was hit hard last summer with out of control wildfires that ravaged agriculture and created billions of dollars in economic damage, the worst on record. Called ‘the Summer from Hell’, the state experienced more than 21,000 wildfires that burned through nearly 3.7 million acres.According to the Texas Forest Service, almost 2,000 homes were destroyed and ten people were killed, including four firefighters. The largest fire was in Bastrop County near the Texas capital of Austin, consuming nearly 500 homes and 34,000 acres. The fires also wrecked the Texas hay harvest. About 70 percent of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as in very poor condition. Many ranchers chose to send their cattle to slaughter early or sell off their herds. Feed prices were out of control and hay was hard to come by. The sudden influx of meat did manage to suppress rising beef prices. That rise may turn meteoric in the future, however, as decreased herd numbers begin to affect beef supply again.Other states, including Nebraska, had plenty of hay and the ranchers that stayed in business in Texas were paying top dollar. A year ago a bale of hay sold for $80, now it goes for $120. That a 50 percent increase. Cory Banzhaf said trucking the hay grown near Pleasanton, Nebraska, to Texas and Oklahoma adds $50 to $70 to the cost of each ton, leaving ranchers there with bills of between $225 and $270 a ton. That’s a great price if you’re selling it, but economically crippling if you’re the rancher buying the hay.Farmers that usually kept their hay for their own livestock or to sell to their neighbors leapt at the higher prices and started sending some of that hay down south. Brad Howard of V.C. Howard Hay Company in Litchfield has seen a boost in his business, which focuses on grinding hay and wet corn and on hauling corn and distillers grains from ethanol plants to Nebraska cattle feeders. There has also been an increase in haying road ditches. You need a permit to harvest along state highways but property along county road ditches can be hayed and baled without a permit. It is recommended to first give notice to the local county commissioner.As truckloads of hay leave the state, there is some concern about whether cattle and horse owners here will have an adequate supply for themselves. Howard  said farmers who bale corn stover, soybean stubble and wheat stubble after harvest can  mix those fillers with distillers grains in their livestock feed. Nebraska State Senator Deb Fischer suggests putting up extra hay this winter. “I know from personal experience there are times when no amount of hay can be wasted,” said Fischer. “That time is now and every resource should be utilized to assist other farmers and ranchers.”Farmers and ranchers in search of hay or have hay to sell can contact the Nebraska Cattlemen Association at the Lincoln Office at 402.475.2333 or the Western Nebraska office at 308-760-6464. You may also contact Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s Hay Hotline at 800-422-6692. A page has also been created on Facebook for buying and selling hay. Search: The Hay Connection.