COKATO, Minn. - An oasis in a desert. That's how cattlemen and ranchers in other parts of the country are beginning to view the hay being grown by Minnesota farmers like Harlan Anderson.
"That's right, it is like an oasis," says Anderson, who raises 800 acres of hay near Cokato. "In the last ten days we've gotten calls from just about every corner of the United States."
The difference is rain - the kind of moisture that makes for lush Minnesota hay fields while broad sections of the country wilt.
"I don't think ever in my life I've seen it where the rest of the country is as dry as it is and we've got a good crop," says Anderson.
In Litchfield, auctioneer Randy Kath has his own proof of the demand for Minnesota's hay: a legal pad scrawled with the 33 phone messages left for him while he was in Canada over the weekend looking for hay to broker in the U.S.
"This was Friday at six O'clock until Sunday a six O'clock," he says pointing to the names on the legal pad. He continues to count. "Had seven, eight, nine, ten more, just this afternoon."
The majority of the calls have come from farmers and ranchers from Missouri, Ohio, Southern Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana, scrambling to find hay to feed their livestock.
His phone rings again. This time it's a horse farm in Middlebury, Indiana.
Kath's employer, Litchfield's Steffes Auctioneers, typically ships out 30 to 40 semi loads of hay in July, mostly within the state. "By the end of the month it will push 100 (loads)," he predicts, "and that's basically 75 percent higher than a normal year." Most of the hay Kath is brokering now is leaving Minnesota.
Minnesota farmers with hay to market are finding unprecedented demand. "Those guys generally hang onto the hay until the fall when the prices increase, but the prices are so high right now a lot of guys are selling right of it the field," says Kath
Tighter supplies have also meant steep increases in hay prices. High quality alfalfa that typically sells for $150 a ton is now fetching $240, plus the cost of trucking hay hundreds of miles.
Harlan Anderson says the hay supply was further squeezed by farmers switching to soybeans and corn to take advantage of high commodity prices.
Preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture show roughly 30,000 fewer acres of land planted in hay this year compared to 2011. Minnesota farmers grow about 1.8 million acres of dry hay.
"I had a call from Indiana and they tell me they're stealing it out of barns in Indiana," says Anderson. He predicts tightening supplies will eventually result in more cattlemen and dairy farmers selling off part of their herds.
"They'll be a lot of horses disappear, a lot of beef cows, a lot of dairy cows. The auction barns are being packed with animals that are being culled because they don't have feed."
An oasis can offer only so much relief.
(Copyright 2012 KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)