While the December 2006 hay stocks report came in as expected with lower inventory than the previous year, other developments bear watching as the hay market moves into the spring and summer months. Several industry observers, for example, believe alfalfa acres in California will be down by about 10 percent this year. In addition, there's a question mark when it comes to total production this season due to weather conditions last summer and this winter.

A San Joaquin Valley grower we talked to in January was evaluating grass varieties to overseed stands that were scalded when fields were irrigated during prolonged temperatures well above 100 degrees last July. This winter, we had reports that newly planted fields were hard hit by freezing temperatures in the Central Valley. In the Imperial Valley colder than normal temperatures also put a crimp in the first harvest, or “clipping”.

Speculation of a 10 percent acreage drop got more credence when the Imperial Irrigation District's mid-January report showed a 12 percent drop. That translates to 19,000 fewer acres in the Imperial Valley. To no one's surprise, there were 12,000 more acres of durum wheat. As reported in the January CAFA News, growers went into 2007 with more choices when it came to other crops that can rival profitability of alfalfa. A 10 percent drop in acreage may be right on or pretty close to the mark.

It will be interesting to see if last year's decrease in alfalfa hay shipped into California (126,000 fewer tons) will change in 2007. With more dairy production in states like Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico, it's possible shipments may not increase substantially if at all.

On the plus side, the CWT Herd Retirement Program got started this month, a development that will hopefully give the dairy industry a better outlook for profitability in 2007. CAFA will update its members on market trends in April, soon after the National Agricultural Statistics Service releases the planting intentions report.

Worth a look

It's not unusual for innovative growers to solve problems and launch a second business. We've seen it with ag machinery and more recently with computer programs like “HayManager”. It was designed by growers and the Siskiyou County company, Ag-Biz Solutions, is run by Tara Porterfield. She and her husband Chet Porterfield grow alfalfa and operate a cattle ranch near Macdoel. They were exhibitors at the Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference last December where we learned of the new venture.

Tara's background includes working as an ag loan officer and bookkeeper for other growers. It's not surprising she'd focus on a program that, among other things, keeps track of complete field records, planting, fertilizer, herbicides, power bills, production history, hay inventory, and comprehensive sales data. It's designed for growers regardless of where they farm. A program for non-baled crops is also available.

The company claims that HayManager is a user-friendly program that offers “far less effort than conventional record keeping systems.” Nonetheless, something caught our attention; “unlimited tech support” for three months for the basic program, and 12 months for the deluxe program. If you've ever struggled with — and sworn at — a new computer program with a worthless tutorial or help section, the promise of tech support has value. You can take a test drive by visiting the company's Web site at, www.haymanager.com.