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Nationwide hay shortage impacting Montana ranchers and consumers

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Posted at 8:40 AM, Jul 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-06 10:59:00-04

ROBERTS - Hay is a hot commodity for farmers now because of a nationwide shortage, spurred by drought from three years ago, the heavy rain this year, and continued high commodity prices.

Tyson and Sadie Ropp own the Double Cross Cattle Company in Roberts, a one-stop shop for custom ag whether it’s fencing, feed supply, or hay production.

They can barely keep up with the demand.

“It’s been pretty high. We had a real bad drought about three years ago and hay production was next to zero,” said Tyson Ropp.
Though they’ve successfully been playing catch up, Montana ranchers like the Ropps are now dealing with a new problem from Mother Nature.

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Tyson Ropp

“This year it’s going to be a tough year with all the extra moisture,” Ropp said.

Ropp said heavy rains will affect the quality of hay as well, forcing ranchers like himself to change up their feed program.

“We started utilizing a lot of other feeds, corn silage and grinding straw. Adding some protein supplement just to get our daily cost down on the cattle,” said Ropp.

The shortage means that the price of hay will stay high.

According to MSU Agriculture Extension Agent Trestin Feagler, other high commodity prices are putting upward pressure on hay.

“Fertilizer and pretty much anything that has to do with inputs for agriculture have gone up about 20% and maybe even higher than that,” Feagler said.

That means higher costs for Ropp when he wants to fertilize his hay field, which limits his yield.

“This place didn’t get any fertilizer on it this year. You probably would have gotten a third to half as many bales out here more,” Ropp said.

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Trestin Feagler

Consumers will also feel the effects of those increases as Feagler said grocery store beef prices will rise because ag margins are slimmer than ever.

“The gap between them making money and them affording to do what they want to do is getting smaller and smaller so the amount of money they’re making off of what they’re producing just seems smaller and smaller, it seems like,” said Feagler.

Ropp said he expects the Ag industry to go through many changes in the next decade or so, changes he’s ready to embrace.

“I think it’s going to be fun, exciting. If I had a magic ball, we’d know exactly what to do,” Ropp said.