Feed costs high as beef producers struggle with poor crops, lack of supply
The cost of groceries is going up for cattle ranchers and horse owners in southeastern Alberta at the end of a second straight summer of stressed pastures and drought stricken hayland.
“From where it was (in 2016), I’m paying double,” said Morley Forsyth, who operates the Forsyth Ranch equestrian arena near Medicine Hat after passing his cattle operation in southwest Saskatchewan over to his son.
“It’s a tough thing right now because it is really high. Around Medicine Hat, you can’t buy anything for less than $200 (per ton for high quality hay).”
A quick survey of Alberta Agriculture’s forage listings — where individuals can make buy or sell arrangements for hay straw or pasture — shows few calls out from southern addresses looking to market excess.
Under for-sale categories, some central Alberta producers offer 1,800-pound bales for $180, OBO, but that doesn’t include trucking costs.
“In general, hay prices are very high,” officials with the Alberta Financial Services Corporation told the News Monday, citing dry, hot growing conditions in southern that nixed second cuts on nonirrigated land pushing prices higher.
Farm inputs survey states an average province-wide price for hay with more than half alfalfa at the farm gate is about $153 per ton in September. That’s up from $118 at the same time last year, marking a 30 per cent increase.
Current prices for feed barley ($4.33 per bushel) and feed oats ($2.68), are also about 10 to 15 per cent higher than last year, while feed wheat was even.
“There’s generally been low (hay) production this year in southern and central Alberta, and strong demand globally for beef, so prices are high,” according to AFSC analysts.
“We’re seeing some hay trucks headed south and higher prices in northern Alberta as a result of low moisture conditions.
“Straw prices are quite high as well and there’s more of it being baled this year than normal because of that.”
The most recent Alberta Crop report states the advancing harvest is taking some immediate pressure off cattle producers as they are turning pasture into stubble fields. As in 2017, the hay market landscape depends on the amount of stunted crop that is used as green feed. That and increasing experimentation with straw as a staple supplement could help offset some costs for cattle producers, according to several producer groups.
Warmer weather in mid-October has helped restart harvest across Alberta, and brought it to a near conclusion in the south.
In the region, 85 per cent of major crops are combined and seven per cent are in the swath, with only canola trailing behind at about the three-quarter completed mark. Barley, oats and spring wheat all sit above the 80 per cent mark, up notably from the previous week, but will be behind the 2016 average.
Harvesting of peas and potatoes is virtually complete in the southeast, with two-thirds of sugar beet and dry bean acres complete with few grade concerns thus far.
Fall seeded crops are rated at 32 per cent fair and 65 per cent good or better.
Surface soil moisture remained steady across the south with an even split between fair and good ratings.
Sub-surface soil moisture is considered poor for one-quarter of arable land, half fair and the remaining quarter good.