Growers in the Kittitas Valley may be able to put their concerns of prorationing for junior water rights holders on hold for the moment as they have a reason to celebrate: high quality timothy and alfalfa are being putting up during this year’s first cutting.

Anderson Hay and Grain CEO Mark Anderson said there was a very good weather window for valley farmers to put up their hay during the first cutting.

“Right now, we’re just really busy with a lot of customers coming through and trying to confirm grading and understand where the lines get drawn for all your different horse grades to dairy grades,” he said. “Kind of in the middle of all that right now.”

Anderson said the weather for the most part has cooperated with the exception of the strong winds the valley has experienced over the last two weeks.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “There’s some fields that got blown around quite a bit. We like that warm wind, but when it’s blowing windrows apart and up against the fence line, that’s less ideal. At least they aren’t fighting rain. I think for the most part everybody was able to get hay up in a pretty good weather window this year.”

Compared to last year’s first cutting, Anderson said things are looking good. Last year’s first cutting yielded below-average quality due to weather conditions.

“This year would be a year you would say it’s above-average quality,” he said.

Although the majority of alfalfa Anderson sells for export comes from areas like the Columbia Basin, Anderson said the quality of what’s being grown in the valley mirrored that which he has seen from the first cutting of timothy.

“That went up good as well,” he said. “Similar good weather window and there was some nice alfalfa put up in the valley this year, which was good. It continues to see more and more interest from customers as a lot of the growers in the valley continue to get better and better at putting up nice export-quality alfalfa.”

Talking about market conditions, Anderson said they have seen a softening on price for dairy-grade timothy over the last couple of years, but that buyers are noticing the higher quality this year.

“I think customers were kind of expecting some kind of correction or adjustment, especially with the better harvest weather,” he said. “We kind of need that in the marketplace anyway for timothy to kind of continue to be competitive at dairy farms compared to sudan hay and oat hay and some of the other alternatives.”

As the buyers get more of a look at what’s coming in from the first cutting, Anderson said there will be a clearer picture of what kind of adjustment is in the future for valley growers.

“It’ll start to kind of play out,” he said. “I think we need to get through the rest of harvest and then we’ll know how things shake out. Generally speaking, it’s been a really good start compared to last year, especially.”

Mike Hajny of Hajny Trading Company also had a very positive outlook on the first cutting.

“The valley timothy is just absolutely exceptional this year,” he said. “We’re seeing lighter yields on the farm, but virtually no brown leaf on any of the timothy this season.”

Hajny attributes the quality to a cooler and possibly wetter spring weather pattern experienced in the valley this year. He said he has also seen a push from valley growers to move to earlier-maturing seed varieties, which he says allows them to cut timothy a bit earlier in the season, helping stave off heat-caused brown leaf. He said the quality of alfalfa he has seen is also looking good.

“First cutting of alfalfa was very nice,” he said. “Probably some of the nicest alfalfa we’ve seen in the state of Washington.”

Despite the slightly lower yields he is seeing, Hajny said the quality is significantly better than last year’s first cutting. As a result, he said he expects significant price corrections compared to last year’s crop, which should help temper the lower yields he is seeing.

“We hope the customers will realize there’s less actual product available and the quality is better,” he said. “Hopefully the price adjustment won’t be quite as severe.”

GROWERS PERSPECTIVE

Valley grower Carl Jensvold with the Organization of Kittitas Valley Timothy Hay Growers and Suppliers said the consensus among growers was that the first cutting came in somewhat early.

“It seemed like we had a late spring and then it when it warmed up the timothy and alfalfa came on early,” he said.

Jensvold estimates that approximately 90 percent of the valley is done with the first cutting, and that although alfalfa was pretty much on schedule, most farmers were putting timothy up approximately a week earlier than normal.

“I know for me personally it’s up to two weeks early,” he said. “We cut the hay when it’s ready and it just came on really fast.”

Although the choice of faster maturing seed varietals could play into the earlier yields, Jensvold said he felt like ideal weather conditions had more of a factor in the equation.

“The really warm first weeks of June just really brought on the plants,” he said. “I think the weather was a driving force for bringing on the maturity of it.”

Although he felt like the alfalfa crop was typical, he said timothy is much more susceptible to weather than alfalfa, and that the haying conditions were ideal for timothy during the first cutting.

“Very bright green hay,” he said. “I think the quality is good.”

Although prorationing is definitely on growers’ minds, Jensvold said the primary focus is placed on what’s ahead of them right now.

“It absolutely helps to get that first crop in the barn,” he said. “They’re projecting that we’re going to have water until the first of September, which will allow us to get our second cutting in before we run out of water. We just won’t have water after that to assist us with rotating some of those fields out into different crops. We always have our challenges. This year it just happens to be rationing of water for some of us, a portion of the valley. That’s going to have an impact more next year than it will this year.”

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