WALLOWA COUNTY — Local hay producers are firing up their swathers and balers to harvest this year’s first cutting of the crop to be used both for local cattle and exported around the world.
Farmer Mark Butterfield, who annually puts up about 1,500 acres of hay, said he sells both in the Wallowa Valley and to Oregon Hay out of Portland for export. He grows about half alfalfa and half timothy grass.
“They ship it all over the world,” Butterfield said.
He and neighboring farmer, Jay McFetridge, who both farm along Crow Creek Road east of Enterprise, had some contrasting results. McFetridge owns a 400-acre field that was mown last week before a 2- to 3-inch downpour over the weekend. That left the mown crop a washed-out golden brown when it should have been green.
Brother Carl McFetridge, who was raking the hay into windrows Thursday, July 2, for baling later that evening, said the hay had originally been intended for export to dairies throughout the Northwest. It’s the highest-quality and most-valuable hay. However, after the rain, he said it would likely end up bringing in about 20% less on the hay market and be sold as feeder hay for beef cattle.
Jay McFetridge agreed that was likely, but wasn’t giving up hope.
“We’ll have to see how it tests,” he said.
While producers don’t yet know just what their crop will bring this year, they can somewhat go by last year’s prices. Jay McFetridge said they saw feeder hay sell for $130 to $160 a ton then. Butterfield said he believes most alfalfa will sell a bit better than last year. Hay that tests higher quality and can be sold for dairy or export purposes sells even higher, as do timothy and orchard grass hay.
Butterfield and the McFetridges agreed that cattlemen do better to buy Wallowa County hay since any from outside the valley requires considerable transport costs. They said hay coming from as close as La Grande adds another $20 a ton just for trucking it into the county.
They agreed their crops generally are looking good, despite the recent rainfall.
Butterfield was pleasantly surprised on July 2 that he was able to cut his crop in a field of about 130 acres.
“I was amazed we could cut this fast after more than 2 inches of rain,” he said. “I figured it’d be a bloodbath to even try to go today.”
Butterfield said with the wet spring, his crop was a bit late in maturing, though it was looking good.
Hay is one crop that re-seeds itself. Farmers plant it once every four or five years and then harvest until that seeding has run its course. Butterfield and the McFetridges said they rotate from alfalfa to timothy or orchard grass. The grass hays take good advantage of the nitrogen alfalfa leaves in the soil — and it sells for a good price. Then, it’s back to alfalfa.
Wallowa County hay producers usually get about three cuttings of alfalfa a year, Butterfield and the McFetridges said. Grass hay usually produces two crops.
But it all depends on the weather, the farmers agreed.
“Mother Nature — you can’t control it,” Carl McFetridge said.
“About now, we’re hoping for some dry weather,” brother Jay added.
Butterfield said farmers aren’t the only ones.
“I think even people who have nothing to do with agriculture are ready for the rain to end,” he said.