Pastures, hay supply short in Stutsman County

Dry conditions are causing problems for livestock producers in the region.

hay bales
Hay bales, such as these stack at Jamestown Livestock Auction, are selling for about twice what they did a year ago because of the dry conditions in the region. Keith Norman / The Sun

Livestock producers may be harder hit than grain farmers by the dry weather this year, according to Alicia Harstad, Stutsman County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

"The hay crop is short," she said. "Hay will be the hardest hit of the crops."

Harstad said grasses grow earlier than planted crops and rely on moisture in the soil from last fall and early rains this spring. That applies to pasture and rangeland as well as fields cut for hay for winter feed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Statistics Service classifies the pasture lands in North Dakota as 51% very poor and 26% poor as of late June.

Jeff Schafer, president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, said the dry conditions are forcing ranchers to make tough decisions on whether to buy hay or sell cattle.


"If there is close hay that is always an option," he said, "but it is really hard to find any extra forage to buy."

Schafer, who ranches in the New Rockford area, estimated hay crops there were about 25% of normal this year.

"Some people are putting up (as hay) their small grains they had planted to harvest as grain," he said.

Other farmers are beginning to thin their herds as a way to reduce the need for pasture grasses and winter hay, according to Chad Mack, manager of Jamestown Livestock Sales.

"We are seeing producers really culling their herds hard," he said. "So far, the prices are steady and holding good. As the drought continues, it could push the prices down."

Roger Nenow, owner of Jamestown Livestock Sales, said the number of cattle going through the sales ring will likely increase as the summer goes on.

"Summer is usually our slow time," he said. "Not this year. Everybody is getting hit."

Mack said the cost of buying hay for use as the livestock sales has about doubled to around $100 per bale up from a normal price of about $40 per bale in past years.


"Hay is really scarce," he said. "Hay from outside the region could be trucked in but that would be more expensive with shipping costs."

Harstad said timely rains over the next weeks could help crops like corn and soybeans but is likely too late for hay and pasture land.

"An inch a week would be good," she said. "Especially for corn and beans. The yields for those crops are made at this time if they get rain."

Crops across Stutsman County are spotty with some areas hit very hard by the rain while other areas had been damaged by heavy rains and hail early this spring., Harstad said.

"The crops are all over the board," she said. "I don't think it will be a bin buster anywhere but some crops don't look totally horrible."

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