How Much is Standing Hay Worth?

Very soon this question will pop up and will ask about selling a full year of production or a specific cutting. Getting a handle on how much either is worth is often just guess work. There is a better way.

First we need to set a price for hay after harvest and then subtract the cost of harvest to get the value of hay standing in the field. At this point someone asks “where do I get those prices and costs?” Let’s get the hay price first. USDA regularly reports hay prices by location, type and quality. For instance, the Nebraska 11 May 17 hay report shows Supreme quality alfalfa, large square bales, sold for $150-155 per ton. Prices for other hay types and qualities are listed in the report. Some reports will include cane hay and cornstalks. All of the quality parameters for alfalfa and grass hay are listed in the report. The web site is: https://www.ams.usda.gov/market-news/hay-reports.

The USDA prices are for harvested hay so we need to subtract harvest costs from the reported hay prices. If a farmer or rancher has calculated their own hay harvest costs, that cost would be subtracted from the USDA hay price. If the farmer or rancher wants to calculate their cost of hay harvest, an available spreadsheet from KSU, https://www.agmanager.info/ksu-machinery-costs, can be used to calculate a large number of machinery costs including hay harvest. Custom rates can be used as a proxy for hay harvest costs as well. Nebraska custom rates are published at: http://agecon.unl.edu/cornhusker-economics/2016/custom-rates. Other states publish custom rates as well.

So now we know what to pay for a ton of standing alfalfa (hay price-harvest cost). But we don’t know how many tons are going to be harvested and payed for. The best way would be to weigh the hay harvested. Sometimes that isn’t possible so a sample of the hay harvested can be weighed and then the total calculated. Another way that has been investigated is to count stems per square foot. A recent study in North Dakota showed that system has a 0.33 to 0.97 correlation to measured yield. Two of the locations had a high correlation and a third had a very low correlation. Thus stem counts may work sometimes. A third way is to scissor cut several random 1 square foot areas to get an average yield and then multiply by 43,560 to get a yield per acre. Don’t forget to correct for moisture though. And cut at the same height as mowing occurs.

Another question sometimes asked regards “how much should I pay for a specific cutting?” If weight is used for payment of the standing hay, then a buyer can pay only for what they harvest. Another way might be to use a percentage of a cash rental rate to pay for a hay cutting. In a 3-cut system for alfalfa the first cutting yields 40% of total annual yield and the subsequent are 30% each. A 4-cut system has 35% of the annual yield in the first cut, 25% in the second cut and 20% for the next cuttings. Thus if a buyer wants just the first cutting of a 3-cut alfalfa field then multiplying a cash rental rate by .4 is way to calculate a price.

Of course the amounts calculated above are starting points in a negotiation. A fair price is the one that two parties agree upon.

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Care of Storm Damaged Trees

Recent storms have left some trees damaged and others that require maintenance to survive. This column will provide guidelines on how to care for these trees.
Evaluation of the damage is the first step in care of trees after storm damage. Do not try to take care of tree limbs on or around power line. Large branches that are partially attached and overhanging buildings or areas humans use should be removed first. Clean up debris on the ground before tree repair starts so that personnel safety is increased. Look for hidden damage so that safety hazards are considered before repair work starts.
Remove damaged branches back to the first undamaged branch. Prune back to the branch collar; do not flush cut to the trunk or another branch. In addition, make a pruning cut that produces a smaller wound. When pruning lager branches, use a three-cut method to safely cut the branch. When using chainsaws, use all the proper safety equipment. There is no need to use tree wound dressings or some type of wound paint. These dressings can actually reduce the natural defense and repair methods of a tree. Wound paints may actually be food sources for microorganisms.
All trees that have had major structural damage will need to be removed. This damage does several things that reduce the viability of the tree. It can reduce leaf area needed for photosynthesis; provide entry points for disease and pests. Do not top trees to remove damage. A flush of branches will sprout creating a “witches broom” that is weak structurally. Trees that have had 30% or more of their bark removed during limb breakage probably will not survive. The root connection has been severed due to this bark damage. These trees also should be removed. However, pruning out damaged bark areas will help trees heal. Prune to shape the bark removal area as an elongated football. Portions of a tree with bark damage may die back however.
For the first year or so after storm damage, a tree may produce many unbalanced branches. Remove the weaker or undesirable limbs as they appear. The storm damage and pruning can cause a severe “shock” to the tree. Proper fertilization and tree watering will help counteract the shock. Continued pruning and fertilization will help maintain balance, improve the tree’s health, and help restore its beauty.
When replacing trees, consider what types can be more susceptible to storm damage. Some species less susceptible include Bur oak, Kentucky coffeetree, Little leaf linden and black walnut. Trees that tend to be more susceptible to damage include elms, Silver maple, Honeylocust and Marshall’s green ash. Wait to do developmental pruning of newly planted trees until two to three years after planting. Unless there are multiple leaders and basal sprouts.