Soaring hay prices affect area ranchers

Ken Wolgram was passing through Craig on Wednesday with a trailer load of hay that he just purchased in Steamboat Springs. Drought conditions in Moffat County have made it hard to find any hay for sale in the western part of the Yampa Valley.

"There's hardly any around here," Wolgram said. "The drought and frost have been hard on the hay crop this year."

Wolgram has 20 head of cattle on his ranch by Lay, and he always puts up a supply of hay to get through the winter. He said on a good year, he can purchase hay for $70 per ton. This year he paid $95 per ton for 15 tons.

Wolgram's grandparents raised cattle, and his father has some hay down by Delta that he hopes to get to supplement his supply for the winter.

Besides cutting into his profit margin with the cost of the hay itself, he has trucked two loads from Steamboat Springs to Lay, towing a trailer with nine, 1,400 pound bales each trip. The cost of fuel alone will be hard to recoup.

C.J. Mucklow, Routt County extension agent for Colorado State University, said that although Moffat County has not yet been declared a drought disaster area, the Farm Service Agency is working on getting that designation.

"Dry-land hay yields are way off," Mucklow said. "Probably from 50 to 70 percent less than in normal years."

Mucklow said that on the Front Range, he has heard of prices for horse hay up to $300 per ton. Horse hay, he said, is bright green and packaged in small, square bales for easy handling.

Cow hay, in the big round bales, is seeing a market price from $90 to $160 per ton, Mucklow said.

"Some Northwest Colorado hay crops were so poor that they weren't worth putting up this year," he said. "We'll see a lot of pressure on hay prices because of the drought."

To be declared a "drought disaster area," a county needs to experience a 40 percent reduction of precipitation for a four-month period, Mucklow said. That will allow farmers and ranchers to apply for benefits from the federal government.

Phyllis Lake is the executive director for the Farm Service Agency and acting director for Moffat County. She applied for Moffat County to receive a "Drought Designation" two weeks ago and expects to hear back from Washington by early August.

"That designation will allow farmers and ranchers to apply for low interest loans," Lake said. "They can also be reimbursed for 75 percent of the costs of hauling water for livestock."

Lake said the Farm Service Agency notifies farmers and ranchers when a drought designation has been declared through letters in the mail and by newspaper articles.

Moffat County ranchers may also receive emergency assistance because of the Thompson and Divide Fires this summer. For Dwaine Kinnett, who was cutting hay at Loudy-Simpson Park on Wednesday, the search to find the 500 tons he needs to get through the winter was still underway.

"We've got 150 cows and about 400 sheep," Kinnett said about his ranch by Maybell. "We'll be buying some hay, but that's normal for us."

What's abnormal for Kinnett is paying the higher prices for the hay he needs. In a normal year he pays about $60 for a ton of hay.

"I've heard from $80 to $150 a ton this year," he said. "We have a couple places like this (Loudy-Simpson Park) where we can pick up a little bit."

Lake said the Farm Service Agency is in business to help keep ranches and farms from going out of business.

"When they hear of the drought designation being declared for Moffat County, they should contact the Farm Service Agency to apply for assistance." Lake said.

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