Tariffs unsettle hay market

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Farmers harvest alfalfa in a field near Royal City. The 2018 hay crop is coming into a market roiled by trade disputes.

MOSES LAKE — In any war, real or metaphorical, somebody gets caught in the crossfire. And in the 2018 trade wars, that could include Washington agricultural exports. Like hay.

For the uninitiated, there are two types of hay grown in Grant County for feed, timothy hay and alfalfa. The growing season in the county is long enough to harvest multiple crops, two in the case of timothy hay and three or four of alfalfa.

China is a major customer for Washington alfalfa, the third-largest export market in 2017, according to information from the Washington Department of Agriculture. China bought about $103.9 million of Washington hay last year, according to WSDA statistics.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is involved in a trade dispute with China, among other countries. The resulting rounds of tariffs have unsettled all markets, including agriculture. “It’s definitely confused the market,” said Mark Anderson, chief executive officer of Anderson Hay, Ellensburg. Other customers for Washington products including hay, both domestic and export, are waiting to see how events unfold.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture releases market reports each Friday, and as of July 27 the market was “slow to moderate.” Alfalfa rated good quality for export was selling at $180 to $185 per ton. Premium quality alfalfa for domestic sales was averaging $220 per ton.

Timothy hay prices as of July 27 were about $260 per ton for fair quality hay for export, according to the USDA.

The Trump Administration has pledged $12 billion in offset support for farmers affected by tariffs. But how that would be distributed is still to be determined.

Exporters “remain cautious,” the USDA report said.

“Meanwhile, we’re having a really good second (alfalfa) harvest cutting,” Anderson said. “We’ve had some good weather for second cutting.”

“Timothy harvest was a little more of a challenge,” Anderson said. Rain during harvest is bad for some products, cherries and hay among them. Both timothy and alfalfa growers battled the rain during first cutting, Anderson said.

The 2018 alfalfa crop could extend to four cuttings for some growers in the Columbia Basin, and two cuttings for some timothy growers.

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