A cow and her calf eat dried grass due to a widespread drought at a farm near Oakland City, Indiana, August 15, 2012. Record heat throughout the US farm belt states have curtailed crop production and likely will send corn and soybean prices to record highs according to the US Department of Agriculture. Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
CHICAGO - Farmers are resorting to pleas on Facebook, Craigslist and other online sites to track down hay to feed their cattle, horses, sheep and goats now and through the winter.
The drought that's affecting most of the country has hurt alfalfa and grass, the main types of hay, forcing livestock producers to pay more and travel farther. If they can't find enough, some will liquidate their herds.
Gary Hanz, who raises cattle near Hastings, Neb., and grinds hay for feedlots, says dry conditions are making hay scarce. "Nobody's letting go of anything they've got because they're not going to have enough to support their own livestock," he says. "For what little there is, there's such a high price."
Hanz, who has "looked all over the Internet" for sellers and posted on a Facebook page that links sellers and buyers, says a ton of alfalfa hay typically costs $80-$100 in his area. "This year you're going to give probably double that," he says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates this year's hay harvest will total 120 million tons, down from 131 million last year. The USDA this month opened 3.8 million acres of conservation land for emergency hay harvesting and grazing.
Bruce Anderson, a forage specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says hay shortages add to farmers' costs and make it more likely they'll cull livestock. That means "chances are extremely high" beef prices will rise next year, he says.
Sellers came from as far away as Canada for Thursday's weekly sale at Rock Valley Hay Auction Co. in Rock Valley, Iowa, says Jeanette Van Grootheest. Alfalfa hay sold for as much as $330 a ton; the top price on Sept. 1, 2011, was $190 a ton.
•Gary Sollars, a Monticello, Ind., farmer, got calls from three hay sellers last week in response to a Craigslist post. He bought some 2-year-old hay and says, "I took all he had." Sollars says he was "getting pretty close" to culling his herd.
•Alex Danbman, a Milledgeville, Ill., farmer, sold a semi-truckload of hay to an Indiana farmer and posted a notice on a website saying he has 77 bales available. He says it's been a bad year: "We should be getting 3.5 to 4 tons an acre," he says. "We're getting a ton to a ton and a half."
•The Hay Barn in Timpson, Texas, is advertising on websites across the Midwest. "We've had some rain, so everybody here is doing OK," says Donna Thompson. who helps run the company.