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The cascading effect of drought on hay producers: from the field to the shelves

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Posted at 6:30 AM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 08:30:05-04

With the summer season approaching, those looking to harvest their fields feel the concern of drought levels.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about a third of Gallatin County is in the D3 intensity level, or Extreme Drought, with the remaining in D2 intensity level. Dr. Hayes Goosey says that it is not just the drought that causes a low yield.

“The growing conditions are worse,” Goosey said. “The top surface of the soil is so dry—even the moisture that we’ve got has only wet the top 6-8 inches.”

Dr. Goosey is an associate professor and extension forage specialist at Montana State University, and with MSU Extension. Words he hears from producers in the area: concern.

“They were short on hay last year, and it hasn’t gotten any better,” Goosey said. “They're looking for options, and again, their options come in the forms of high hay prices, and quite often long hauls to get that hay to the farm and the ranch.”

A local business owner, who wished to remain anonymous, commented on the rising high of hay prices. They buy over 100 tons of hay a year.

“We’ve been buying at $150-175 a ton, it’s jumped up to $400,” the business owner said.

The hay harvest affects more than just those that are growing the crop and those that are feeding their cattle, horses, or other livestock: grocery store shoppers.

A chain reaction. Hay comes at a higher price, ranchers liquidate portions of their herd so fewer cows go to market, and those that do come at a premium cost at the grocery store. All of this, coupled with the transportation fee and rising gas price, says Dr. Jane Boles.

Dr. Boles is an associate professor and Meat Lab Manager at Montana State University and cites the drought as one cause to this impact on the shelves of the store.

Producers wishing to learn more can contact the MSU Extension office to speak with a specialist.