Making hay

Bill Bradshaw /
Juan Billias moves freshly cut alfalfa hay into windrows for drying before it is baled Tuesday along 2600 East west of Roberts. Billias was working on the Bruce Stem farm.

Idaho hay could prove to be a valuable commodity this year.

“The hay crop is looking very good this first cutting,” Jay Fielding, from Firth, said.

Fielding is a board member of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association and grows about 400 acres of alfalfa.

“I hear dairy-quality Idaho hay is going for $200 to $250 a ton,” he said.

Fielding said some Idaho hay may find a market beyond the state’s borders.

“A lot of it stays here, but California dairies, because of the drought there, are wanting Idaho hay, too,” he said. “So, some of it may be headed out of state.”

For Fielding’s crop, the tonnage looked average or above.

“I should have cut 10 days sooner,” he said. “The scheduling didn’t work out, but I think we’ll be just fine.”

But the scheduling for Fielding may have worked out better than hay producers farther north, who cut a little later than Fielding’s mid-June cutting.

Will Ricks, of Monteview, is the president of the Hay and Forage Association. The mid-June rains might hurt the hay crop in his area, he said, assuming it was cut and not bailed when the downpours came.

“It’s too early to tell,” Ricks said. “If it gets dried out it might be OK. If not, it will be feeder hay. If it hadn’t been cut yet, it will be fine.”

Ricks grows about 2,000 acres of alfalfa. He has witnessed some changes after 20 years in the business.

“There’s been a big change in how the hay is put up,” he said. “It used to be small bales, which took a lot more people to handle. Now, I do the big bales to sell to the dairies and it takes a lot less people to get it done.”

Ricks enjoys producing dairy hay.

“The dairies have been great for the Idaho economy,” he said. “I don’t see a negative about all the dairies being here. They provide jobs and it’s a great destination for our high-quality hay.”

He also considers the Hay and Forage Association as a positive for hay producers.

“We try hard to provide good networking for producers and to give them information on the latest equipment and developments in the industry,” Ricks said. “It costs $60 a year to be a member and that cost is offset immediately if you can go through our networking to get $10 more a ton for your hay.”

The association, Ricks said, hosts a gathering each February to offer new hay-related information and help members get acquainted with their board representatives. In addition, growers discuss the past and coming year in terms of marketing and planning.

This season, eastern Idaho is enjoying a better hay crop than other areas of the state.

“The first cutting here came off in good shape with no rain,” said Glenn Shewmaker of the University of Idaho Extension Service at Kimberly. “However, lack of water in some areas around here has producers struggling and the next cutting may not be as good.”

Water is not the only issue, he said. Clover root curculio, an insect-caused disease, is taking a toll on alfalfa.

“It seems to get worse in drought weather,” Shewmaker said. “And, it’s worse in the older stands. The insect larvae hatches in the spring and feeds off the plant’s root, damaging it. The adults lay the eggs the year before. It’s a serious problem, but one we don’t have a solution to yet. There needs to be some studies done because we have no recommended treatments for this.”

Hay fields in higher mountain areas do not seem to have the same problem with the insect larvae.

Ricks agreed.

“I haven’t heard of any problems with that around here,” he said. “We are looking to have a very good year, I think.”