Wichita Dwindling hay supplies in the wake of last summer's drought has left Kansas ranchers scrambling this winter to feed their cattle, forcing some to go as far away as Canada to find hay.
The problem is especially acute because not only did the drought cut production of alfalfa, but many ranchers were forced to begin feeding hay earlier than usual this fall when their pastures dried up.
Larry Oltjen, Robinson cattleman
"Everything is pretty tight, and especially grinding alfalfa," said Gary Mills, U.S. Department of Agriculture's livestock and grain reporting office, Dodge City. "We continue to import some hay from surrounding states, and even had hay shipped in here from Canada a lot of freight on that."
About a dozen semi-truck loads of the Canadian hay has gone into southwest Kansas, he said. Prices have leveled in the past two weeks but remain high.
Some dairy-quality hay in southwest Kansas is now fetching as much as $120 a ton, compared to prices of between $95 and $115 a ton a year ago.
Prices for scarce grinding alfalfa have soared to $85 to $100 a ton, with some contracts as high as $105 a ton, he said. Last year at this time farmers could get grinding hay for about $40 a ton.
Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimated that Kansas this year would produce 6.07 million tons of all types of hay, down 16 percent from a year ago.
Robinson cattleman Larry Oltjen harvested only half as much grass brome hay this year as he did a year ago at his northeast Kansas ranch.
"Some guys are scrambling to find hay to feed. We had to start feeding a little early," he said. "Hay is going to be scarce, especially if the snow stays."
Oltjen expects to have enough on hand for his own cattle this winter, but said some of his neighbors are worried.