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Odd weather last year cost county its No. 1 hay spot

Apr 19, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County last year produced only two-thirds of the hay it did in 2011, dropping the county out of its typical position as the No. 1 alfalfa-producing county in Wyoming.

"Hay is our largest crop," said University of Wyoming Extension educator Ron Cunningham. "A lot of that is exported out of the county."

According to new data, local farmers produced 157,000 tons of the crop, topped only by Goshen County's 202,000 tons. Fremont County had been the top alfalfa-producing county since 1962, when Park County grew 109,900 tons to local farmers' 104,500 tons.

Last year's production marked a 38 percent drop from 2011 and is 37 percent lower than the 10-year average. Local farmers produced 254,000 tons in 2011, and the average of the 10 years before 2012 was 247,300 tons.

Cunningham said the drought caused the low production, first by making alfalfa fields yield less.

"We never got the spring rains and the spring snows," he said. "Those things help the alfalfa."

Fremont County placed lower, 10th out of 16, in terms of yield with 2.7 tons of alfalfa produced per acre. Platte and Goshen counties topped that list, both with 4.45 tons per acre.

Along with production, local yield was 16 percent lower in 2012 than in 2011, which saw a yield of 3.2 tons per acre. Last year's yield was also 24 percent down from the average of the 10 previous years.

Added to the low yield, the number of acres harvested was lower.

"I think most of that was they didn't harvest some fields because production was way down," he said.

It was not worth growers' time or fuel to harvest some fields, he said.

Data released by the National Agriculture Statistics Service show Fremont County harvested 58,200 acres of alfalfa hay, second only to Crook County's 60,500 acres.

Acreage under alfalfa in Fremont County last year dropped 27 percent from 79,500 acres the year before, 17 percent down from the 10-year average.

Cunningham said high prices for alfalfa may balance some of the farmers' lost revenue.

The average price of a ton of alfalfa hay in 2012 in Wyoming was $205, up 44 percent from $142 in 2011.

The high price of feed, however, will hurt livestock producers, he said.

By March of this year, the price climbed further to $220 a ton. More favorable spring weather this year also is expected to help alfalfa production.

Hay excluding alfalfa

Other kinds of hay also were a big crop for Fremont County, whose farms produced 44,000 tons of the crop. Fremont County's figure was down 13 percent, however, from the 50,300 tons produced in 2011 and 4 percent from the 10-year average.

Last year's production landed Fremont County in fifth place on the list of Wyoming counties'

non-alfalfa hay production. Carbon County topped the list with 93,800 tons.

Fremont County farmers harvested 26,000 acres of other hay. That figure lodged Fremont County a fifth-place berth. No. 1 Sublette County harvest 64,800 acres of non-alfalfa hay.

Local acreage in non-alfalfa hay in 2012 grew .8 percent from 25,800 acres in 2011. Last year's acreage was also 5 percent higher than the 10-year average.

Cunningham said 2012's hot summer affected other kinds of hay worse than alfalfa.

"Grass hays, once it gets hot, they shut down and don't come back," he said. "It got hot way to early and it kind of quite growing."

Last year's yield of non-alfalfa hay was 1.7 tons per acre, down 13 percent from the 1.95 tons per acre in 2011 and 9 percent lower than the 10-year average.

The state average price for non-alfalfa hay was also up last year over 2011. In 2012 it was $189, a full 55 percent higher than 2011's price of $122.

The price from last month had risen further to $200 a ton.

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