Drought, COVID-19 and sporadic freezes contributed to changes in Kansas hay production

Staff Writer
The Hutchinson News
Sugar Creek Ranch near Partridge sells square and round bales of various types of grass, hay and straw.

Although temperatures did not stray too far from the average this year, some large swings, mixed with freezes at inopportune times, left hay producers in a bit of a bind.

“2020 weather was crazy,” Kay Netteleton told farmers during the Kansas Forage and Grassland Council annual meeting on Wednesday. Nettleton, of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, produces the state’s weekly Haymarket Report.

Despite the fluctuations in weather and the insurgence of COVID-19, Kansas hay trades have increased during the last five years, with a dip in 2020. But overall, this year, hay prices were slightly higher.

Kansas temperature and rainfall fluctuations continued all year

January was wet and warm, yet February was cooler than normal. March, like January, was warm and wet, with an average temperature of 46 degrees — 3 degrees warmer than normal. This warmer weather increased insect problems in the crops.

Nettleton reported that fluctuations in weather continued throughout 2020. April and May were cooler than normal, with sporadic freezes being an issue, causing damage to winter wheat and alfalfa. COVID-19 also brought about a steep drop in commodity prices.

Temperatures rose during June, Nettleton said. And July was the eighth wettest since 1895. On the other hand, August was the 12th driest month in more than a century.

“Those July rains helped improve that prairie grass and helped it recover,” Netteleton said. “Prices remained steady all summer.”

As of December, about 40% of hay producing areas in Kansas were in a drought, affecting the crop.

“There’s been a wide discrepancy in price between southwest and south central regions for grinding alfalfa,” Nettleton said. “The higher grain prices, corn in particular, has probably helped alfalfa markets.”