If you grow alfalfa for your beef cows or for feedlots, perhaps it's time to consider harvesting some of it as a higher value cash crop this year, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln forage specialist.
Alfalfa acres in Nebraska and surrounding states have dropped more than 25% during the past several years. Even if the southern drought is not as serious this year, the drop in hay acres will likely increase prices next winter, he says.
Many remaining alfalfa acres belong to cattle producers growing hay for their cows or feedlots. Since cow hay and grinding hay usually is $40 to $60 per ton less than dairy hay, you may want to advantage of this drop in acres and difference in price.
"Well, quite frankly, cattle producers have a tremendous advantage over commercial hay growers," Anderson says. "If you harvest your hay before it blooms, get it baled in heavy, transportable packages with most of the leaves intact, stored under cover to prevent weather damage, and then marketed to get its true value, you also can sell it for a premium price. But if your hay does not meet premium standards, you still can feed it to your own animals.
You might think you can't sell the hay because you need for your ow animals. "And you're right," he adds. "But, if you do sell some dairy hay, what you can do is buy other, less expensive hay at the grinding or stock cow hay price. But you get to pocket the extra $40, $50, maybe $60 dollars for each ton of hay you sold and still have hay for your own animals."It costs little to at least try to cut early to harvest premium quality hay. If you succeed, you get a bonus. If your hay doesn't qualify for a bonus, you simply feed the hay to your own animals, just like you would have done anyway, Anderson explains.