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Hay shortage prompts cattlemen to sell at low prices
SEDALIA, Mo. -- A severe shortage of hay is forcing some farmers to sell their cattle early, causing depressed cattle prices and driving some cattlemen out of business.
Years of dry weather and drought are the main cause of the hay shortage, which extends through much of the Midwest and into Texas, industry spokesmen said.
"This is the worst situation I've seen since I've been in Missouri," said Gene Schmitz, who has been with the University of Missouri Extension for 15 years.
That sentiment was echoed by Ike Hulver, a cattle farmer for 40 years near Concordia, who said he usually has hay for sale.
"This year, I'm getting calls from all over Oklahoma, Texas and everywhere else, and I don't have any to get rid off," he said.
Hulver, who began feeding hay to several hundred head of cattle in November, said he and most people who have hay are keeping it for their own cattle.
Those running out of hay are paying premium prices to Iowa and Nebraska farmers, Schmitz said.
In most years, farmers selling hay make little profit, but that has changed this year, said Hulver, who said round bales that sold for $15 to $30 in the past are going for $40 to $50.
Other factors contributing to high hay prices include a high demand for corn from ethanol producers, preventing farmers from supplementing their hay feed with corn, and recent snow and ice storms in western Kansas and eastern Colorado, which forced cattlemen to scramble for any feed they could get to their stranded herds.
The lack of hay has forced some farmers to sell their cattle, which has depressed cattle prices.
Barry Wilson, who sold his entire herd Wednesday at the Joplin Regional Stockyards, said he didn't have enough hay to feed his 65 commercial cows. He fed his herd 10 tons of grain to make the hay last longer, which he had never done before.
After raising cattle for six years, Wilson said he couldn't see any reason to continue.
"I'm not going to take a chance on it anymore," he said.
Tony Hancock, market reporter for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said most herd liquidation happened last fall and he does not expect many more producers to sell now.
"The guys who have held on this long, they have a way to manage through winter," he said.
Hancock said the high price of grain has kept feeder cattle prices low and heavier culling of older cows has saturated the market. Slaughter cow prices are $10 less per hundredweight than they were one year ago, he said.
But he noted that prices recently were higher than ever before.
"We have to look at it in perspective," he said. "We've seen some decline in prices, but it's not horrible. It's better than it has been many times in the past."