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Drought, demand making hay costly, hard to find

Tue., Aug. 30, 2011, midnight

OMAHA, Neb. – A scorching drought in the southern Plains has caused hay prices to soar, benefiting farmers to the north but forcing many ranchers to make a difficult choice between paying high prices or selling their cattle.

Ranchers in much of Texas, Oklahoma and even Kansas are having to pay inflated prices for hay and then shell out even more to have it trucked hundreds of miles from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska or South Dakota. Their only other options are to reduce the size of their herds or move cattle to pastures in another state.

“It’s pretty ugly,” said Don Davis, who raises grass-fed beef on his ranch about 75 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Parts of Texas haven’t received any rain since last fall, and forecasters predict the drought will last at least through November. The situation isn’t much better in western Oklahoma, southern New Mexico and parts of southern Kansas.

That’s why the average price of hay climbed to $170 per ton this summer from $112 per ton last July, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. But many ranchers are paying much more because the price doesn’t include shipping costs.

Some farmers have turned to social networking to find hay. The Hay Connection, a Facebook site started by two Oklahoma brothers, matches buyers and sellers and had more than 7,500 fans by midday Sunday.

Nebraska hay farmer Cory Banzhaf said he’s shipped roughly 2,000 tons south to Kansas and Oklahoma this year because of the drought.

Banzhaf said trucking hay grown near Pleasanton, Neb., adds $50 to $70 to the cost of each ton, leaving ranchers with bills of between $225 and $270 a ton.

“It’s great if you’re selling it, but horrible if you’re buying it,” said Banzhaf.


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