Routt County Dry weather and late-season freezes are expected to produce smaller hay yields around the state and prices will probably rise because of the shortage.
"I would guess it's a 30 percent reduction, if not more," Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.
Last year, local hay growers got about $95 per ton. They are expecting more this year. "I'm sure that will go up," Mucklow said.
Routt County grass-hay growers usually produce 51,700 tons of irrigated hay and 5,800 tons of dry-land hay. Also, 8,500 tons of alfalfa hay is produced locally.
But ranchers probably won't reach those levels this year.
"Right now, it isn't growing," hay grower Mike Hogue said of his crop.
Hogue has irrigated hay fields, so the dry weather didn't affect his hay, too much. However, cold temperature in the spring and early summer took its toll on his fields and will reduce the yield.
It's the same story in Moffat County, Extension Agent Ann Franklin said.
She estimated that yields will be two-thirds less on dry land and one-half less on irrigated land.
Many people have already cut their dry-land hay, three weeks early, in Moffat County.
"It was so dry that they had to cut what they had," Franklin said.
Cold snaps have hurt irrigated fields.
Extension Agent Brent Young, who covers Mesa, Delta, Montrose and Ouray counties, said things are looking up in that area.
The first cutting of the 120,000 irrigated acres of hay in that area, which is primarily alfalfa, was one-third off, Young said. Dry weather and insect problems were to blame for that. But the second cutting of the hay, later this month, is expected to be at least normal, if not better.
"The weather cooled off a little bit and we've passed our insect problem," Young said.
Yields in Larimer and Weld counties are down, Larimer County Extension Agent Ernie Marx said. However, he wouldn't speculate on how low they are.
"Just from driving around the counties, it doesn't look like it did last year," he said.
Weld and Larimer counties are the largest hay producing areas, in the state, Young said, with approximately 165,000 acres of hay. Most of it is irrigated land with alfalfa. The lower yields in that area are causing the demand for hay to go up, Marx said.
Doug DeCosta, who buys hay and owns Colorado Hay Co. in Yampa, said it's too early to know what the exact prices will be, but his feeling is that hay growers will get more this year than last year.
The demand for hay will be really high in some places, while other markets may not be that strong, he said. Hay growers in the Yampa Valley, for example, may be better off than most people in the western states because of good irrigation locally.
"There's been a lot of good hay put up," he said. "There's going to be a reasonable supply in our area."
But there seems to be a shortage through the United States, DeCosta added.
From Canada to Mexico, it's been dry and has had an effect on the hay industry, he said.
"Honestly, prices for good quality hay will be steady or even higher than last year," DeCosta said.
Hogue has been shopping around for a good price for the hay he's already cut and said prices are coming in at $10 more a ton than last year
Many people in the Delta County area still have ample amounts of hay left from the winter and won't buy much hay, Young said. The winter in that area was so mild that ranchers were able to keep livestock grazing for a longer period of time, instead of feeding them hay.
"We've got quite a bit of supply here," Young said.
That may be true in that area of the state, but it won't affect the price people will pay for quality hay in places of the country that don't have any supplies, DeCosta said, adding:
"I would say there will certainly be an increase in the price."
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail email@example.com