"Drought Gives One of the West's Thirstiest Crops An Ironic Boost"

Drought has driven up the price of hay in the West.

"We farmers here in the United States might as well recognize that we are a minority group, and that the prevailing interest of the nation as a whole is no longer agricultural,” wrote Dust Bowl farmer Caroline Henderson in a letter to a friend later published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1936. She lived in the eye of the eight-year drought, in the Oklahoma panhandle, and farmed wheat. She is now credited with creating one of the best written-records of Dust Bowl history. “Hay for the horses and the heifers remaining here cost us $3 per ton, brought by truck from eastern Oklahoma,” she wrote.

That was a lot of money back then. Hay prices are much higher today – the national average is always over $100. But dire drought conditions in California have driven them way up in recent months, putting dairies and ranchers in a pinch similar to Henderson's. Many livestock producers in the corridor between Bakersfield, Calif., and Merced are buying hay that would normally be under $200 per ton, for as much as $325, and are looking to Pacific Northwest states and as far away as Texas and Colorado for competitive prices. Prices in California have risen by $50 per ton in just the past two months.

In similarly drought-stricken Nevada, where alfalfa accounts for 90 percent of the crops grown, hay producers are preparing for a difficult season for the third year in a row. Some counties’ water supplies are less than half of their normal size. Yet the dry conditions also have a silver lining: High prices have brought much-needed financial relief for producers, according to Jay Davison, an alternative crop specialist with the University of Nevada –even if they’re a nightmare for dairies and livestock producers in California."

Tay Wiles reports for High Country News' Goat Blog March 25, 2014.

Thursday, March 27, 2014