PINEDALE – September wasn’t everything Stuart Thompson would have liked on his ranch just east of town – too much rain pushed his haymaking into October for the first time in his life.
But aside from the lateness of the year, it hasn’t been a bad harvest.
“As far as production, it’s going to be a good year for volume and, for the most part, for quality,” Thompson said, noting that his flood-irrigated grass hay has been averaging about a ton to the acre – some fields more, some less. Thought he hasn’t had a chance to compare his crop production records to last season, the harvest seems similar to the 2016 hay crop in his part of Sublette County, he said.
That meshes with what the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture says for the state of Wyoming as well. In its October crop report, released Oct. 12, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service projects that Wyoming will harvest slightly more hay in 2017 than last year, but only because the state’s producers are harvesting more acres of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures – 550,000 acres compared to 500,000 last year. Yields are unchanged at 2.80 tons per acre, but the great number of acres harvested means producers are bringing in an estimated 1,540,000 tons of alfalfa hay this year compared to 1,400,000 tons in 2016.
For all other hay, which includes native grass hay such as most Sublette County producers rely on, 2017 is expected to be virtually a repeat of 2016: Producers will harvest about 520,000 acres and they are reporting yields of 1.70 tons per acre, or 884,000 tons in all. Those figures are unchanged from 2016.
Rhonda Brandt, Wyoming state statistician for the NASS, said what often sways hay production in Wyoming is whether producers at lower elevations get a second cutting.
That’s not even a possibility for Thompson, whose ranch outside of Pinedale is at about 7,200 feet.
“This is not what you call rich farmland,” Thompson said. “This is one crop of hay a year.”
But nevertheless, it’s a valuable crop both for feeding his own cattle and horses – that’s why he bales big round bales – and for selling to horse enthusiasts and outfitters making treks into the national forests. For them, Thompson bales small square bales and also has Sublette County Weed and Pest Board certify that it’s free of noxious weeds – a requirement if outfitters or riders are going to take hay into the national forests.