Farmers expect high hay prices

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(Host) Vermont fields have been busy for the past week or so with farmers cutting, raking and baling hay.

But high fuel prices and some bad timing on weather has made it more expensive to make all of that hay.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, that could drive up the cost of raising livestock.

(Sneyd) Sam Comstock is thrilled that beef and sheep farmers have taken over many of Vermont’s former dairy farms.

He’s a livestock specialist with the University of Vermont’s Extension Service and he says the small farms help maintain the state’s traditional landscape.

(Comstock) "I think beef and sheep are excellent uses for that land. And so I’d really like to see that remain profitable and become even more profitable.”

(Sneyd) Profits can be elusive in farming, but small livestock farmers have been able to rely on hay as an affordable livestock feed for the winter.

It’s a lot cheaper than corn and other grain. Today, for example, the price of a bushel of corn is three times higher than it was just two years ago.

And now, Comstock says, it looks as if hay prices are also headed up.

(Comstock) "The day of the $2 small square bale of hay is largely gone. Just the cost of the equipment and the fuel and the fertilizer to replace the nutrients as that hay gets removed largely wipes all of that $2. And so we’re seeing prices of $4 or $5 a bale or even more for good quality hay, small square bales.”

(Sneyd) Even a small farm can go through hundreds, often thousands, of those small square bales. Most farms now rely on big round bales that weigh 500 pounds or more.

And it takes gasoline and diesel to fuel tractors that pass through a field three or four times just to take off one crop of hay.

Plus, this year’s rain has come at the wrong times for farmers and has reduced the quantity and quality of hay they’ve made.

So costs are up – and you know where this story’s going. You’re soon going to pay more for a good cut of meat.

Chip Morgan runs Wood Creek Farm in Bridport.

(Morgan) "The prices are starting to really skyrocket up, even at the wholesale level and at the commodity level. Part of it is the value of the dollar is getting lower so it costs more really to buy the same amount. Also, with all these increases of grain and fuel costs, the meat price will continue to rise. Everything is going up.”

(Sneyd) But the Extension Service says farmers continue to get smarter to hold down their own costs.

They find ways to keep their animals on pasture a little later in the fall. Or they devise better feeders so animals waste less hay in the winter. And some are experimenting with new forages, such as sorghum or are even growing grain crops themselves.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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