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Montana growers navigating hay shortage during drought

Posted at 5:54 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 19:54:42-04

WORDEN- — As drought conditions worsen across Montana, farmers are being forced to wait longer to harvest alfalfa.

This is leading to a hay shortage, which is causing prices to skyrocket.

“I was looking, and prices are anywhere from three to four times higher than this time last year,” says Clint Johannes, a Worden-area farmer and rancher.

Johannes has a small family farm and grows roughly 300 acres of alfalfa. Johannes says that he has received dozens of calls from people in and out of Montana inquiring about whether he is selling any hay. Johannes says since he only has a small family operation, he normally doesn’t have many people who want to buy.

“We want to try to help folks out, but unfortunately, we got to stop at some point, and we can’t sell because we need hay for ourselves as well. So, I had to shut everybody off until we get through second cutting and I know what we’re looking at,” Johannes said.

Johannes said he typically gets between three to four cuts of hay a season. He recently finished his second cut and is hoping for a third this year.

Johannes also has between 75 and 100 cattle, which he usually feeds through the winter on hay that he’s grown.

He says that this year he will most likely have to thin that herd out and mix in cheaper feeds to save himself some costs.

“I think everybody with cows right now are looking at cutting pretty heavy. So instead of some of your older, underperforming cattle they’re really going to cut deep. Even us, we’re probably not going to bring back as many replacements as we want to,” says Johannes.

Although Johannes’ field is irrigated from the Yellowstone River, he says the alfalfa hasn’t been growing as fast this year due to the excessive heat.

Johannes is hopeful that the heat will allow him to graze his cattle into November and December, so that he doesn’t have to worry about feeding them until the start of the new year.