When we think of crops hit hard by the drought, corn and soybeans come to mind. But dry hay production is at its lowest level in four decades. Good for sellers, not for buyers.
Experts say the hay shortage started when farmers chose to use more of their hay pastures to plant high-priced corn and beans.
"It's been working that way from the acreage standpoint for several years. Then you add the drought, it really wiped it out," said owner of the Rock Valley Hay Auction, Paul McGill.
McGill is the man behind Rock Valley, Iowa's Hay Day. Each year, hay comes to town by the truckload. Tons of it, up for auction. McGill was worried this year's stock would fall short, but it's actually more than normal.
"Prices have come up a lot. And that's luring in more hay," said McGill.
And luring folks who want to capitalize on high demand. Just how high?
Prices have gone up a lot since last year. It costs about twice as much to buy the same ton of hay. Experts estimate hay, once selling around $100 a ton, can now go for more than $300.
Sellers call it "extraordinary."
"It's double, triple what it was a year ago," said hay seller, Tim Hovorka.
Buyers don't share the sentiments.
Dairy farmers say they're getting hit with a double whammy, high hay feed prices coupled with lower demand for milk.
"The milk price hasn't been all that great here lately. It's gone down over the last few months. It definitely cuts into the bottom line," said Darin Dykstra, dairy farmer.
To make up the difference, farmers say they're cutting back hay rations, and mixing in substitutes like still costly corn silage.
What buyers really want? Timely rain and more hay growers.
"It's going to take more crops being grown and more total tonnage out there," said Dykstra.
Thursday, marked the 47th annual Hay Day, a tradition dating back to the 1960's.
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