Hay tonnage in Kansas good this year, but quality lacking as untimely rains cause problems

Wetter weather across much of Kansas this year has boosted the tonnage of hay grown in Kansas, but experts say its quality is lacking.

Untimely rains have damaged rows of cut hay that are left to dry in the field before baling, making it good for little else than grinding it up and mixing it with other feed grain, according to Steve Hessman, hay market reporter for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Plus, the much of the hay that wasn't damaged was cut so late that it's overly matured and is no longer dairy-quality hay, he said Tuesday. However, it still looks good and has good protein, he said, and is excellent feed for beef cattle.

"We had good production, good tonnage — but not the best quality in most cases," he said.

Weather has a huge impact on hay prices, which increase if snow covers wheat pastures or crop residues. Some cattle producers who used alternative feeds in the last few years because of high hay prices are returning to alfalfa, Hessman said.

"Our low-quality, grinding hay is as cheap as we have seen in a long time," Hessman said, noting it is trading for $80 to $90 a ton, compared to $120 to $140 a ton a year ago.

Stock quality hay is fetching between $100 and $120 a ton, compared to $170 to $200 a ton last year at this time.

Cattle rancher Mike Schultz got such a good crop out of his first cutting of alfalfa hay that he said he thought he was going to "hit a gold mine." But it stopped raining and got hot near Brewster in northwest Kansas, and his crop never rebounded.

"I am trying to build some reserves up so I don't have to buy any, because a few years ago that hay was really high priced and kind of caught a few people in the wrong spot," Schultz said about the commodity during the drought. "It was an expensive ordeal."

Growers have been able to cut the dairy-quality hay in recent weeks, but that's coming mostly from irrigated fields, Hessman said. That hay is trading between $180 and $200 a ton, compared to $230 to $250 a ton last year.

The fourth cutting of alfalfa is 65 percent finished in Kansas, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.