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Published July 24 2012

Farmers in other states buying up Minnesota hay

COKATO, Minn. – As a record drought parches the nation’s midsection, ranchers are turning to Minnesota for hay to feed their cattle.

Harlan Anderson, who grows 800 acres of hay near Cokato, says he’s getting calls from just about every corner of the country from farmers who view Minnesota as an oasis.

“I don’t think ever in my life I’ve seen it where the rest of the country is as dry as it is and we’ve got a good crop,” Anderson said.

And the phone is ringing off the hook at Steffes Auctioneers in Litchfield. Auctioneer Randy Kath has proof of the demand for Minnesota’s hay: a legal pad scrawled with the 33 phone messages left for him while he was in Canada over the weekend looking for hay to broker in the U.S.

“This was Friday at 6 o’clock until Sunday at 6 o’clock,” he said, pointing to the names. He continued to count. “Had seven, eight, nine, 10 more, just this afternoon.”

Steffes typically ships 30 to 40 semi loads of hay in July but Kath said they expect to hit close to 100 loads this month, about 75 percent more than usual. Most of the calls are coming from Missouri, Ohio, southern Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana, he said.

Those areas have been hard hit by the drought, which has spared much of central and eastern Minnesota so far, though it’s starting to take a toll on the corn crop across southern Minnesota. Northwestern Minnesota is also in drought, while much of west-central Minnesota is rated as abnormally dry, though not in drought.

Not all of Minnesota is enjoying lush hay cuttings. According to this week’s crop progress report for Minnesota from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota’s range and pasture conditions statewide were rated 13 percent very poor, 21 percent poor, 29 percent fair, 33 percent good and 4 percent excellent, a decline from the previous week.

Tight hay supplies are causing prices to jump. High quality Minnesota alfalfa that typically sells for $150 a ton now fetches $240, even if it must be trucked hundreds of miles. So Kath said farmers that have hay to sell aren’t waiting until fall when prices typically increase.

Supplies were further squeezed by farmers switching acres to corn and soybeans to take advantage of high commodity prices. Preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture show roughly 30,000 fewer acres were planted in hay this year compared with 2011. Minnesota farmers grow about 1.8 million acres of dry hay.

Anderson predicted that tightening hay supplies will eventually result in more cattlemen and dairy farmers selling off part of their herds.

“They’ll be a lot of horses disappear, a lot of beef cows, a lot of dairy cows,” he said. “The auction barns are being packed with animals that are being culled because they don’t have feed.”