Jock Camilletti, left, and Bob Preator are set for what they said should be a great hay season. The men showed off their equipment Friday at the Camilletti property east of Hayden.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Jock Camilletti, left, and Bob Preator are set for what they said should be a great hay season. The men showed off their equipment Friday at the Camilletti property east of Hayden.

Hay producers expect strong crop

Rain a mixed blessing for Routt County grass, alfalfa

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If you go

What: Hay Day 2009

When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Sidney Peak Ranch

Cost: $5 for lunch

Call: CSU Extension, 879-0825

— Routt County hay producers will cut and bale a bumper crop this year, Extension Agent CJ Mucklow predicted.

Spring rains have kept the grass and alfalfa growing on the Western Slope, which usually puts up hay later than folks across the divide. Some producers to the east are struggling with the wet weather, which can ruin hay once it's cut.

"If we went through a cycle like that where it rained every day and you can't get it to dry, that makes the hay worthless," Mucklow said. "It turns it into mush."

Routt County produced an average of 71,500 tons of hay a year from 1991 through 2007, Mucklow said. Moffat County produces about 68,500 tons. Most of Routt's hay is grass: 51,500 tons. The rest is alfalfa.

The hay already hits chest level for Jock Camilletti, who lives outside Hayden and produces 3,000 or 4,000 tons each year with Will Montieth. They hadn't started cutting as of Thursday. Last year, they started alfalfa June 24, Camilletti said. Grass typically comes down about a month later.

"Everything is out of whack this year," he said. "There's not much going normal."

He and Mucklow said that Routt could benefit if the Front Range loses much hay to moisture. That would mean more demand and better prices for Western Slope hay, Camilletti said.

"You don't wish bad on anybody, but we can always use a little luck," he said.

A successful cut and bale requires two to four days without excessive moisture, Camilletti said. Producers also have to wait for the ground to dry. That's because equipment can get stuck in the mud and because hay takes longer to dry if it's on damp ground.

"Weather's our big concern," said Bob Preator, who works with Camilletti and Montieth. "Once you lay it down, you can get a 10-minute rain, and it can ruin it for you."

Storms forced the hand of another hay producer, Mike Hogue. He runs Bear River Ranch between Steamboat Springs and Milner. He started putting up hay early last week.

"I started a little early because the hail had come and took the tops off about 40 to 50 percent of the alfalfa, and it wasn't going to grow any more after that," Hogue said.

He'd also heard that rain hurt the quality of Front Range hay. But those producers cut hay multiple times during the season, Hogue said.

"The first cutting, there's quite a bit of rain damage to the hay," he said. "The cuttings that are coming up, it might be a whole different story."

Hogue produces 900 to 1,000 tons of hay each year.

In South Routt, Dean Rossi said, cold nights have kept the hay from soaring as high as producers thought the rain would push it. He puts up about 2,500 tons of grass hay each year.

"We're not going to have a bumper crop, by any means," Rossi said. He said other Yampa-area producers had told him the same.

Camilletti and Montieth have produced hay together for at least 15 years. They cut about half grass, half alfalfa. Of the crop, about 60 percent leaves the area. Much of it goes to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The high-altitude hay is popular, Camilletti said, and grass hay particularly is good for horses.

Several groups, including the Colorado State University Extension, have planned a Hay Day for Tuesday. The event at Sidney Peak Ranch near Steamboat will include informational talks and equipment exhibits, Mucklow said. He expects it to be useful to all hay producers.

Hogue noted that buyers want "nice, clean, bright hay" for horses and are less concerned about that for cows. Most alfalfa goes to Front Range dairies, he said. If the rain continues but lets up in time for cutting, the hay will be great, Camilletti said.

"Rain is wonderful," he said. "It's wonderful stuff. I'll never cuss the rain, but right now, I'm getting concerned."

The crop could look good statewide if the weather cooperates.

"It's going to be a good year for hay for everybody," Camilletti said.

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