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 USDA Hay Prices
 A Prism Business Media Publication April 18, 2006 |  
Group Sets Hay Production, Marketing Goals
Top of the News CRP Sign-Up Deadline Extended Evaluate Alfalfa Stands This Spring
Insect Update Indiana Missouri Ohio
State Reports Midwestern Auction Report New Mexico
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Group Sets Hay Production, Marketing Goals
Adversity helped strengthen an Iowa hay production group's resolve to produce some of the best alfalfa in the world. Farm Partners Supply, Harlan, IA, is made up of growers who share their time and talents while striving for success in a variety of ag pursuits. One facet of their operation includes a razor-sharp focus on producing world-class alfalfa. The group raises around 2,000 acres of alfalfa, with big plans for further expansion.

"We are a group of farmers who got together and created a partnership," explains Joe Heese, who manages the group's hay inventory and hay-drying systems, in addition to coordinating hay testing and marketing. Yet not all went smoothly in the partnership's attempt to use goal-setting to improve its hay operation. He refers to those challenging times as the "War of 2004."

A rainy summer and high humidity made it difficult to get hay dry that year. "We had harvest delays, equipment problems, microbial degradation of the hay and damage to regrowth," Heese relates. "We were trying to make dairy hay. But, during 2004, 90% of the hay we produced was grinder hay, and only 10% was dairy quality. We had to regroup, reassess and reanalyze. We decided we would not accept production of grinder hay."

The group held a brainstorming session and came up with seven areas crucial to hay production and marketing successes. Those areas, details and questions the group identified included:
  1. Customers and sales -- Who is the customer? What type of product does it want? How could the group produce that product?
  2. Labor availability and planning -- What steps could be taken to make sure labor is available when hay is ready? How could the group work with the labor needs that overlapped between the hay operation and the row-crop part of the operation?
  3. Storage and quality -- How could hay be stored to maintain quality and prevent deterioration?
  4. Incorrect drying procedures -- How could the group compensate for uncooperative weather conditions?
  5. Assumptions/estimation for forecasting -- How could the group do a better job of cutting hay at the right maturity? How can they work to eliminate weather hazards?
  6. Equipment mismatch -- The group decided it could do a better job of making sure it had the right equipment in the right place at the right time. "We are constantly trying to decide if we should own all of the equipment, rent some equipment during busy times or utilize custom harvesting," Heese says.
  7. Base actions on the knowledge that is gained. Members of the group spend a lot of time talking to experts. "We are constantly working to add to our knowledge," he explains. "We gather ideas, test theories and experiment with new ideas."
During 2005, the group addressed many of those questions and challenges. Six propane-fired hay dryers, designed by Veda Farming Solutions, were bought. Each dryer holds eighteen 3 x 3 x 8' bales, with a total capacity for 108 bales. "Our goal for the dryers was to increase the shelf life of our bales by greatly decreasing microbial degradation," Heese explains. "We were able to bale at the 25% moisture range and worked to reduce bale moisture to around 12% with the dryers. We had higher leaf retention and worked to capture the maximum relative feed value possible as hay was cut. The bales spent less time on the field because we could clean hay off right away. We found we could retain a deeper green color and could sell dairy hay instead of grinder hay."

The group also bought an NIR testing machine from Perten Instruments to check hay quality regularly. Heese worked with that company and Dairyland Laboratories to research testing machines and to get the machine set up correctly. "We have made a lot of decisions based on our NIR machine," Heese says. For example, it has helped make changes in cutting schedules. In 2005, cutting was scheduled based on scissors tests. "Traditionally, we figured fields would be ready to cut within a 26- to 28-day window." But the NIR test results showed some fields should be cut around day 21 -- because of highly fertile soils, he explains.

While seeking the best equipment for the job, the group invited neighbors and equipment dealers to a Cutter Test Day in 2005. Equipment was set up side by side, and then the hay was cut once down the field and back. Every windrow was tested for RFV at 24-hour intervals. Heese says the group has tried to look at every part of the hay-making process. "When we conducted our cutting tests, we looked at which machine helps us make the highest-quality hay," he says. "We also realized the need for consistency when harvesting the hay. We urge the people driving our equipment to be consistent with speed, gears, etc., because it can impact the quality and consistency of the hay." Baler tests are planned for 2006.

The group also purchased scales to make sure bale weight was consistent, and to monitor tonnage coming out of the field. The scales also help determine the consistency of the dryers and aid in making sure trucks are loaded with the optimum tonnage.

The group didn't find perfect solutions to all of its challenges in 2005, but made progress toward many of its goals, Heese points out. "Around 60% of our hay was dairy quality in 2005, and 75% of our production tested between 150 to 230 RFV," he says. Goals for 2006 include perfecting the drying, cutting, raking and baling procedures and having at least 75% of the hay produced at dairy or horse quality. "We are going to strive to have sold our lower-quality hay by Dec. 31, too," Heese says. The group's five-year goal: to be the largest seller of world-class alfalfa east of the Missouri River.

Read more about how Farm Partners Supply worked to fine-tune its hay-drying operation in the January 2006 issue of Hay and Forage Grower. The article, entitled "World-Class Hay," is available at

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Top of the News
CRP Sign-Up Deadline Extended
USDA has extended the sign-up deadlines for both the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the special CRP re-enrollment and extension opportunities to April 28. The extension was made because of sign-up automation problems and to give over-worked county office staff more time to sign up all who wish to participate, says a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) spokesperson.

After April 28, FSA will evaluate offers based on cost and environmental benefits. Accepted offers will become effective Oct. 1. FSA county offices are now notifying CRP participants with contracts expiring in 2008-2010 of their re-enrollment and extension opportunities. Participants must respond by June 30.

CRP participants voluntarily enroll highly erodible and other fragile cropland in CRP through long-term contracts of 10-15 years. On the enrolled land, participants plant grasses, trees and other vegetation. In exchange, participants receive annual rental payments and a payment of up to 50% of the cost of establishing conservation covers.

Source: USDA.

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Evaluate Alfalfa Stands This Spring
Midwestern alfalfa growers who haven't already checked stands for winter injury should do so now, says Stephen Barnhart, Iowa State University agronomist.

Watch for three kinds of winter injury and winterkill. Plants killed by long-term ice cover don't green up and taproots and crowns deteriorate. Plants that have heaved 1" or more may have additional cold injury; if they recover and produce good spring growth, they are still vulnerable to cutterbar damage at harvest. Regrowing plants that broke dormancy during winter often have frozen shoots and still recover well from new crown buds; plants with root and crown tissues frozen below ground are often permanently weakened and considered winterkilled.

Predicting cold damage is difficult because soil temperatures are often warmer than air temperatures, Barnhart says. To make determinations, dig plants and assess crown and taproot condition. Healthy taproots are creamy, white and firm in texture. If plants have good taproots and evidence of bud growth from the crown, they may be recovering well or more slowly than normal, but recovering. Taproots that are spongy in texture, or watery and beginning to take on a tan or yellowish color, are likely severely cold-injured and deteriorating. If you are seeing signs of this, check fields again in about a week to verify your first assessment.

Before harvesting slowly recovering, winter-injured stands, allow the first growth to reach at least half-bloom, Barnhart suggests.

Stands with less than four healthy plants per square foot will likely produce marginal yields this year. Plan to plant a replacement field this year. If you need the forage from the current, damaged field, consider taking only a first harvest, destroying the damaged stand, and establishing an emergency forage crop for needed forage, he adds.

An Iowa State University Extension publication, Evaluating Hay and Pasture Stands for Winter Injury (PM 1362), goes into more detail. It also identifies some concerns about reseeding and "thickening up" or "patching in" alfalfa into winterkilled or injured alfalfa fields.

Source: Iowa State University Integrated Crop Management Newsletter.

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Insect Update
Southern Indiana growers need to start scouting for alfalfa weevil damage, according to Purdue University entomologists. Producers can use heat unit accumulation data to determine when sampling should begin and when management action should be taken. If an insecticide is required early in the weevil season, producers can use one with good residual action. Later in the season, insecticides with short residual should be used, and producers should pay close attention to harvest restrictions.

Source: Purdue University Pest & Crop Newsletter.

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During the past week, many southern and central Missouri alfalfa fields were sprayed with insecticide to control alfalfa weevil larvae, says Wayne Bailey, University of Missouri (UM) entomologist. Weevil damage is moving northward as additional eggs hatch and larvae grow in size, he reports in UM's Integrated Pest and Crop Management Newsletter. The bulk of damage should occur in central and northern Missouri regions within the next 2-3 weeks. In southern Missouri, producers should continue to scout fields because a second wave of larvae may yet develop. An insect fungal pathogen, Zoophthora phytonomi, may still infect and quickly kill alfalfa weevil larvae, probably in areas of the state where wet conditions persist for several days. Larvae infected with the fungus will turn from green to light yellow in color and die within 2-3 days.

Contact Wayne Bailey at 573-882-2838 or 573-864-9905.

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With recent warm temperatures, Ohio alfalfa growers should begin scouting for alfalfa weevils in coming weeks, say Ron Hammond and Bruce Eisley, Ohio State University (OSU) entomologists. That's especially true in southern counties, where heat unit accumulation has reached the 300 heat-unit range needed for eggs to hatch and feeding to begin. Yet central and northern Ohio growers should also begin scouting over the next 1-2 weeks. Fields with south-facing slopes tend to warm sooner, so need to be scouted early.

Rescue treatments can be done when growers see one or more large larvae per stem on alfalfa that's 12" or less in height. Alfalfa between 12" and 16" in height needs treatment when 2-4 larvae per stem are sighted -- depending on the vigor of alfalfa growth, say Hammond and Eisley. See the OSU Alfalfa Weevil Fact Sheet -- -- for more on alfalfa weevil scouting and economic thresholds in Ohio. For a list of insecticides labeled for alfalfa weevil, see The entomologists say it is still too early to scout for potato leafhoppers because they don't move into Ohio until May.

Source: Ohio Crop Observation and Recommendation Network newsletter.

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State Reports
Midwestern Auction Report
Hay prices were steady in Nebraska, according to the University of Wisconsin's April 14 Midwest Hay Auction Report. Demand and trade activity were good. Most growers' inventories were nearly if not totally depleted and the logistics involved in getting hay to costumers was a major concern. The outlook for new-crop hay was very good.

In Iowa, prices were mixed to $2.10/ton lower than those cited the previous week, and demand and sales activity were light to moderate. Consumers were getting basic needs met while waiting for greener pastures. Inventory levels were good, but, again, getting the hay to where it was needed posed a major problem.

South Dakota hay prices were mixed to $5.40/ton higher than the previous week's prices. Missouri hay prices were mostly steady; hay demand was light to moderate and supply was light. The southwestern quarter of Missouri continued to be dry; 80% of its pastures were in poor to very poor condition and stock water and hay supplies were very short. Temperatures late last week were to exceed the 90-degree mark. Demand for cattle hay evaporated in much of the rest of the state, because cattle have been turned out to pastures. Demand for high-quality horse and dairy hay continued to be good with a light supply.

Southwestern Minnesota hay prices were $7.85/ton higher than prices from the week before. Sales activity was good. There were no reports for Wisconsin or Illinois hay prices or sales activity.

Midwestern hay price averages and ranges in various categories were as follows:

Prime Hay (> 151 RFV/RFQ):
Small square bale prices averaged $117.39/ton and ranged from $70 to $150/ton. Large square bales averaged $105/ton, ranging from $60/ton to $160/ton. Round bales brought an average price of $82/ton and ranged from $60/ton to $95/ton.

Grade 1 Hay (125-150 RFV/RFQ):
Small square bales averaged $52/ton. Large square bales averaged $69/ton, ranging from $50/ton to $102/ton. Round bales averaged $58/ton, and sold from $45/ton to $87/ton.

Grade 2 Hay (103-124 RFV/RFQ):
Large square bales brought an average price of $60/ton, ranging from $47/ton to $80/ton. Round bales averaged $56.25/ton, with a minimum price of $32.50/ton and a top price of $80/ton.

Midwestern straw prices for small squares averaged $2.41/bale, ranging from $1.50 to $3.50. Large squares averaged $27/bale and ranged from $20 to $45; and round bales averaged $18.75 each, with a low price of $15 and a top price of $23. Compared to previous-week straw sales, small square prices were up 6%. Large square prices were down 25%, and round bales, down 28%.

Source: University of Wisconsin.

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New Mexico
New Mexico hay growers can expect record hay prices this year, but supplies will be limited, says Doug Whitney, Roswell. "In southeastern New Mexico we have not had but one-tenth of 1" of rain in eight months," he says. "Marketwise, most hay is committed, but prices have not yet been set. This also is working in the farmer's favor because continued drought is causing cereal grains for silage to be off in yield. And mid-March brought us several nights of 23 degrees or less, causing first cutting to stop growing."

No hay is available anywhere, including lesser qualities, Whitney says. He predicts hay will be in high demand throughout this year because of drought. Water in Whitney's area is metered, he adds. "This is the fifth year of our five-year term, where we have to meet the balance of our contract. Some farmers have overused and will have to cut back this year to avoid stiff fines and penalties. Many fields will be laid out after the first two cuttings to save water, and cotton acreage will be increased this year. Corn silage acreage will be off for these reasons."

Other reasons for higher hay prices in Whitney's area: "Dairies are squirming with the forecast fall in milk prices, partly due to overproduction," he says. "Out-of-state markets are stronger than ever, with drought situations in other states causing huge demand for high-quality New Mexico hay."

Contact Whitney at 505-622-8080.

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**April 19-20 -- 2006 Mid-South Ruminant Nutrition Conference, Arlington Hilton at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Sponsored by Texas A&M University Extension Service and the Texas Animal Nutrition Council. Contact Ellen Jordan at 972-952-9201 or

**April 21-23 -- Midwest Horse Fair, Alliant Energy Center, Madison, WI. Learn more at

**April 28-30 -- Minnesota Horse Expo, Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St. Paul. Learn more at

**May 4 -- Beef Cattle and Forage Crops Field Day, Kansas State University, Southeast Agricultural Research Center, Mound Valley, KS. Contact Lyle Lomas at 620-421-4826, ext. 12, or, or visit

**May 9 -- University of California-Davis Alfalfa/Forage & Small Grains Field Day, UC-Davis Agronomy Farm Field Headquarters, Hutchison Road. Take Hutchison Road 1/3 mile west from Hwy. 113 near Davis and look for headquarters on left.

**May 25 -- University of Florida Corn Silage and Forage Field Day, Plant Science Unit, Citra, FL. Contact Jerry Wasdin at 352-392-1120 or, or visit Under "Dairy Cattle," click on "Corn Silage Field Day."

**June 14-15 -- Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference, Grand River Center, Dubuque, IA. Call Dave Fischer, 618-692-9434 or Leo Timms, 515-294-4522.

**Sept. 7-9 -- National Hay Association 111th Annual Convention, Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole, WY. Call 800-707-0014 or visit

**Sept. 12 -- Kentucky Forage And Grassland Council Field Day, Dobbs Shady Meadow Farm, Campbell County. Learn more at

**Oct. 3-7 -- World Dairy Expo, Alliant Energy Center, Madison, WI. Learn more at

**Nov. 21 -- Kentucky Grazing Conference, Fayette County Extension Office, Lexington. Learn more at

**Dec. 11-13 -- Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference, Reno, NV. For more information, contact Dan Putnam at 530-752-8982 or, or Glenn Shewmaker at 208-736-3608 or

** Jan. 18-19 -- Southwest Hay Conference, Ruidoso Convention Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico For more info, contact Doug Whitney at, or call Gina Sterrett at 505-626-5677.

**Jan. 24-25 -- Heart of America Grazing Conference, Holiday Inn, Mount Vernon, IL. Learn more from Garry Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext. 202 or

**Feb. 27 -- Kentucky Alfalfa Conference, Cave City Convention Center. Learn more at

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Lora Berg, Editor, eHay Weekly,

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