Hay shortage pinches county cattle growers

US - Wasco County cattle growers are feeling a bite on the bottom line from this year’s hay shortage, but not the kind that skyrocketing corn prices are causing elsewhere
calendar icon 2 February 2007
clock icon 2 minute read

As prices for feeder hay have climbed to between $120 and $160 a ton and supplies have become more scarce, Wamic rancher Steve Anderson is buying grass straw from grass used for golf course seed at about $45 a ton to feed his 100 head of cattle. “It’s not real high in protein, but we supplement it with hay and cut the cost,” Anderson said. Just finding feed is a challenge. “The available feed is pretty low — just about everything is sold out,” Anderson said. “I’ve been getting some around Madras, but that’s pretty much sold out.”

Several factors play into the regional hay shortage. A poor crop — in quantity and quality — on the west side of the Cascades caused by not enough rainfall in spring 2006, and too much in late summer at harvest time, has pushed purchasers to seek supplies from Eastern Oregon. In addition, changes in federal water allotment policy in Southern California have dried up much of California’s hay production. That means a good market in California for Oregon hay growers, many of whom have shipped their crop south, according to a report in the Ashland Daily Tidings.

While weather issues vary from year to year, the California changes, along with higher fuel costs, could signal a long-term supply-and-demand problem.

At the same time, cattle prices have dropped in recent months. “Lightweight feeder cattle were up to almost $1.50 a pound, now they’re down to $1 or $1.10,” Anderson said.

The dry California situation may be partly to blame for that, as well, since many Oregon cattle go to California or Midwest feedlots.

“Our cattle go to auction, then go to grass or feedlots, usually grass in California or the Midwest,” Anderson said. “But California is real dry so far, and that’s not helped us a bit either.”

At an estimated value of $6 million per year, cattle isn’t as big an agricultural contributor in Wasco County as, say, cherries at $36 million, according to OSU/Wasco County Extension Service, but it does make an impact.

Source: The Dallas Chronicle

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