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Sign of the Times
Dr. Victor L. Martin
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The sheriff from Tillman County Oklahoma was featured this past week during a story on a crime increasing significantly in his and many other counties in the Great Plains. They had successfully arrested the criminals using GPS technology. What was the crime? You might guess some drug problem like crystal meth or even cattle rustling. You would be wrong. The crime epidemic catching the attention of the national media was stealing hay.
First let’s finish the sheriff’s story. One particular individual was having a significant amount of hay stolen and contacted the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement placed a GPS device inside a bale of hay. When the bale was taken, they tracked the bale, determined where the bale was dropped, followed the thieves back to the field as they stole more and arrested them. The thieves are facing up to five years in jail. While hay theft is hardly unheard of, the level of theft is. And you’re more concerned about losing $300 a ton hay than $60 a ton hay. Here in Kansas, Butler County deputies are focusing on patrolling back roads to try and stem hay theft. Why now probably isn’t a mystery.
Hay prices have soared as result of the drought. Two years ago the value of prairie hay was well less than half of what it is today. Premium alfalfa prices in many areas have tripled. Baled corn stocks can easily command over $60 per ton in many areas. Weeds were baled this fall. Hay always has value in cattle and dairy country, especially for winter feeding. The drought has caused this price spike for several reasons.
· With the high cost of feed grains, many producers would prefer to feed more forage and for as long as they can. This is true even though the rate of gain is lower.
· Hay demand is also up as the drought has/is severely affecting permanent and annual pasture. Contrary to many animal rights groups’ claims, beef cattle spend most of their lives on pasture and are finished in feedlots. The need for grain is primarily during this finishing phase. Lack of pasture, forage, further increases the demand for hay.
· The news over this past summer featured many stories on cattle herds being downsized or at least seriously culled. Cattle were moved through the system earlier due to feed costs. That still leaves around 90,000,000 head to feed.
· And don’t forget the dairy need for hay. Our part of the world can produce premium dairy quality hay for sale throughout the country. Dairy producers as one producer from Wisconsin put it “are losing their shirts.” Grain and forage prices are just as bad for them as there are no more price supports or government help.
Probably the best thing all of us can do is add precipitation to our Christmas Wish List. And maybe keep an eye out for hay rustlers.