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Hay shortage in Oregon
Mail Tribune 1/18/07

ASHLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Quality hay is getting harder to find and more expensive. And growers say the conditions that led to this winter's shortage are not going away.

Hay growers in the Rogue Valley said a federal decision to give Arizona and Mexico more water from Southern California dried up much of the California hay production - along with another water shortage in California's Central Valley.

As a result, Oregon growers found a good market in California, and shipped a lot of their crop south - pinching the Oregon supply.

"It's a widespread deal and the circumstances aren't short-term," said Keith Corp, an Ashland hay grower.

Hay consumers, used to importing from Klamath County and Northern California, now have to go north into the Willamette Valley, Bend or further, paying premium prices on top of higher fuel costs. Two decades ago, a ton of premium horse hay sold for $75 to $80. In recent years, it's been about $165 a ton. This year it's been in the $195 range.

"I've heard in Klamath, that there were 700 tons selling for $225 (per ton)," Corp said. "That's a drop in the bucket since one horse can eat a ton per month."

Before the mid-1980s, the Rogue Valley produced enough hay to feed its own horses and cattle and still have enough to export beyond the Siskiyous. But fewer acres are devoted to production than ever and Corp says smaller pastures are often mismanaged.

"People are keeping the irrigation going and the horses are grazing 365 days a year," Corp said. "That hammers the grass and there's none left for the winter."

The shortage has put pressure on suppliers such as Grange Co-op to corral enough hay for its customers. The co-op handles more than 14,000 tons of hay annually.

"Organic hay is next to impossible to find," said Tim Higginbotham, feed operations manager for Grange Co-op. "The price has gone up considerably on all feed products, especially grain stock. We usually tie up enough for our stores locally ahead of time and a fair chunk comes from the Klamath Basin or Bly area. But in a shortage year, it puts more pressure on the store."

Jerry May, who runs 275 cattle on 225 acres outside of Central Point and also works at the Grange Co-op, said the demand for hay has created the need for alternatives. One option is a compressed hay bale, which takes the same amount of material and reduces it into a 24-inch by 18-inch cube produced in Eastern Oregon (compared to a 42- or 48-inch bale) so farmers can store it earlier in the year.

"We used to take as much as we could from local suppliers, but there is just less hay on the ground now," May said.

"People are just screaming for all the hay they can get."

Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/ 

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