Montana farmers and ranchers are known around the world for high quality crops and livestock and now there’s growing opportunities for alfalfa growers.
“Montana can grow good hay,” Seth Hoyt, a hay market analyst from California, said. “It’s just a matter of meeting those requirements that are necessary for either the export market or the California dairy market.”
Alfalfa growers in Montana primarily raise hay for beef cattle but last year’s drought cut production significantly.
Hoyt was a presenter at Alfalfa U this past week in Ogden, Utah and he said the jury is still out for 2018.
“The fact is there aren’t very many alternative crops for the growers to grow,” Hoyt said. “In the past years, they’ve had the option to growing corn or wheat or some other crops in the West, but those options just aren’t there right now.”
That’s why it’s important for growers like Eric Larsen of Blackfoot, Idaho to attend events such as the one in Ogden in order to gain more knowledge and become more efficient and progressive.
“I think you almost must because our margins are so thin, you must set yourself apart from your neighbor or the guy from across the state,” Larsen said. “You must be that much better at what you do whether that’s quality or just something that makes you stand apart from what other people do.”
In addition to domestic dairies, growing export markets for U.S. alfalfa like China and Saudi Arabia are providing opportunities for growers.
“Export markets over the last ten years has become a bigger part of the alfalfa market,” Hoyt said. “It’s been a big factor in what the market has done and the demand is for alfalfa grown in the western states.”
New technology such as genetically-modified alfalfa also helps growers raise higher quality alfalfa crops.
“It’s been a tool in our tool box so to speak that we can use that technology to get a good established stand base of our alfalfa and keep it clean,” Larsen said. “And if we do that, then we don’t have to apply as much chemical throughout the growing seasons.”
As for alfalfa prices, early indications have growers and analysts optimistic for 2018.
“The early contracts are starting out at a higher price,” Hoyt said. “Basically, the fact that California has less alfalfa acres then we’ve seen since 1919 will mean more opportunities to sell hay there in the coming years.”
The Montana Alfalfa Seed Advisory Committee will meet February 19 in Billings at the Red Lion Hotel and Convention Center.
The Committee provides direction for research and marketing toward the continued growth of the alfalfa seed industry of Montana.
Reporting by Russell Nemetz for MTN News