Scorched rangelands, shrinking production acreage, and recent tariffs all share the blame for horse hay price increases in California, a forage specialist from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), says.
In its Aug. 3 edition The Hoyt Report Inc. analysis of the western states hay market revealed that California alfalfa prices rose to $225-$258 a ton for good-quality hay from a reported $190-$255 a ton last year.
However, despite the widespread wildfires, the horse hay price increases in California and elsewhere is due to multiple long-term factors, said Daniel H. Putnam, PhD, extension agronomist and forage specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
Putnam says the vast majority of hay is irrigated, so fires don’t affect basic production very much. However, the burning of rangeland and some rain-fed fields has reduced available grazing area for horses, thereby increasing owners’ hay demands. This alone likely hasn’t driven up prices, he said.
“Hay is a large and regionally-produced crop (in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah) and is shipped long distances, so problems in some areas won’t necessarily impact price,” Putnam said.
However, the shrinking number acres devoted to growing hay does play a role in price increases.
“Acreage of hay crops is at a very low stage—the lowest since about 1950,” Putnam said. “That is an important factor in setting the price, which this year is highest in a few years.”
Finally, Putnam believes recent tariffs levied on hay shipments to China could have a longer lasting impact on hay prices than wildfires will.
“The fires have been devastating for livestock people in those areas,” Putnam said. “However, I would venture to guess that the recent tariffs, combined with the low acreage, might be more important in influencing price of hays than the wildfires.”
Whatever the reason, Tawnee Preisner, president and founder of the Horse Plus Humane Society, which routinely sponsors California clinics for owners wanting to surrender their horses for financial and other reasons, believes high hay prices are a fact of life for horse owners there.
“People in California are used to paying (higher) prices for hay; that’s just part of horse ownership there,” Preisner said. “But (drought and fires) cause higher rates and make it a hardship for people.”