Rusty Hall has already made a first cutting on 80 acres of leased land in McElmo Canyon, setting up what he expects will be a banner year for hay production in Montezuma County.
“Last year was terrible because of the water,” he said. “This year, we’re getting our first cutting in, and some people haven’t had to irrigate at all. Some have irrigated once,” he said.
Hall said he’s using his first cut of alfalfa-grass mix hay and alfalfa hay to set up an ideal cutting schedule for the second and third cuts of the season. Currently, he said his grass is going to seed while only about 20% of his alfalfa is blooming.
Cutting a little early before an ideal first cut, he said, will cut down on the first cut’s yield but will set up an ideal schedule for second and third cuts, when his grass and alfalfa should all be synchronized for prime yields.
In addition, he said cutting early will also make for a cleaner cut with fewer weeds.
Hall is selling his small bales, about 60 pounds on average, for $9 for a buyer’s pick from his stack, $8 for a buyer’s pick from the field and $12 delivered in Montezuma County with a minimum delivery of 10 bales.
Danny Decker, owner of Decker Hay Farm near Cortez, who has completed his first cut on about 300 acres, said he expects hay will sell from a range of $220 to $350 per ton, depending on its quality, in Southwest Colorado.
He cautions that a number of factors go into hay prices, including the quantity of hay produced elsewhere in the country and the amount of hay exported to Asia, but he said high-quality hay should still maintain its price from 2018 despite the greater yield expected this year.
Decker said even high corn and soybean prices will act to drive up the national price of hay.
He also cautioned that excessively wet weather as well as dry weather can also harm prices.
“You need dry weather when making hay,” Decker said. “If it rains a lot, we’ll have a lot of rained-upon, cheap hay available.”
Decker expects to be finished with his second cutting by the end of June, and he plans to begin his third cutting two weeks after finishing his second cut.
Despite last year’s drought, Decker said he got three cuttings in 2018, and he expects three cuttings this season as well and perhaps four cuttings on some of his acreage, which he said is spread throughout Montezuma County.
This year, with its plentiful precipitation, Decker said, should mean yields double from 2018, but he noted 2018 yields were only about half of average because of the drought.