Steamboat Springs Agriculture agencies will attempt to connect those who have hay to sell with those who desperately need it this weekend.
A hay auction is from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Knoll Parking Lot at the Steamboat Ski Area.
Jean Morrow, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, said she began getting calls in the spring for information on locals who sell hay. Routt County Agriculture Extension Service agents had the same experience.
Spring is pretty early to be looking for hay, being that most hay growers are months away from even thinking about cutting their crops. But with three consecutive mild winters followed by dry summers, most ranchers knew it would be another tough year to find high-quality hay in Colorado.
As summer climaxed in the Yampa Valley, and it became clear the drought was taking a toll on hay fields, more and more people began calling Morrow to find out where they could get hay. "We talked about it and thought that there might be something we could do," Morrow said.
The hay auction was the perfect solution. The extension office already had planned to experiment with a hay auction as a means of building the local hay market, agent C.J. Mucklow said.
Typically, hay producers in the valley export their product. But with so many people needing hay in the valley, Mucklow said it's advantageous for local growers to sell to local consumers.
Morrow took the reins of the auction, directing those looking for hay to show up on Saturday.
"It's for the people who need three to 10 tons to get them through the winter," Morrow said.
Organizing the auction is exactly the role that was intended for the Ag Alliance when it was formed in 1999, Morrow said.
The goal of the alliance is to find ways to connect the agribusiness community with the resort-business community. Connecting people needing smaller portions of hay on smaller tracts of land with local hay producers is an example of that.
On Saturday, at least 15 local growers will bring hay to the Knoll for the auction.
Some will come with tractor-trailers of hay to sell to the highest bidder.
"Now some of the folks will know who to contact in the future," Morrow said. "We're bridging some partnerships."
Hay prices are between $180 and $220 a ton for horses, which reflects a shortage in the crop this summer.
"Between the drought and the grasshoppers, people were hit pretty hard," Morrow said.
As expected, non-irrigated fields are the ones that suffered the most. Some producers have reported yields that are only 10 percent of normal on those fields.
"The overall production of hay in the county is down," Mucklow said.