Local alfalfa prices lagging behind last year

Crops in Kansas, Oklahoma hurt price

Journal/Sam Green  Jason Decker rotor tills his field south of Cortez while preparing to plant a grass/ alfalfa mixture. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green Jason Decker rotor tills his field south of Cortez while preparing to plant a grass/ alfalfa mixture.

By Mary Shinn

The Cortez Journal

Alfalfa production locally may outpace last year, but so far, prices this summer are lagging.

The alfalfa supply from growers in Kansas and Oklahoma has been strong this season, forcing prices down, said Greg Mahaffey, a local broker and farmer in Yellow Jacket.

Locally, a ton of the highest-quality alfalfa is bringing in about $230 to $240, compared with $250 to $260 about the same time last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The drought in California hasn't played a big a role as predicted early in the season, with many California dairies turning to Arizona and areas closer to home, Mahaffey said.

However, more irrigation water may allow more growers than last year to make it to the third cutting on their fields, said Abdel Berrada, director of the Southwestern Colorado Research Center in Yellow Jacket. He said the chances may be higher for those who have diverse operations.

Last year, some growers with McPhee Reservoir rights received only 6 acre-inches for the season, while this year the average is closer to 20 to 22 acre-inches, Mahaffey said.

Ideally, an additional 8 inches of rain would make for a particularly healthy third cutting.

The market demand is highest for the first cutting of local alfalfa, which was a pretty high quality overall, Berrada said.

Alfalfa is a hot commodity for dairies in Texas and New Mexico because it has such a high protein content and therefore produces the most milk. The area's cool nights force the alfalfa to grow more slowly and give it a high density of nutrients.

"Typically we have higher quality feed than in most of the country," Berrada said.

Some buyers agree to purchase the second and third local cuttings under contract to lock down the first one, Mahaffey said.