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The grass isn’t always greener

Weather, fuel costs creating a tough year for hay ranchers

— A year ago, local hay ranchers enjoyed a bumper crop. Things are different this summer.

Despite high hopes after a winter that dumped heavy snow on much of Routt County, a dry spring — combined with rising fuel costs and several unseasonably cold nights in June — has significantly hurt this year’s crop.

“This year we’re just not seeing the yields,” said Candyce Bongiorno, who lives on Routt County Road 14D south of Steamboat Springs. Her husband, Don, was out on the tractor Saturday morning, working their 250 acres of land.



“We’ve started cutting a lot earlier than normal,” Candyce Bongiorno said. “We have to rely solely on what the weather is going to do. Last year was a bumper crop for everybody, but this year is different.”

Ann Brenner, an administrative assistant at Routt County’s Cooperative Services Extension Office, affiliated with Colorado State University, said dry-land hay on her family’s ranch also is struggling.



“It was just so dry, it wasn’t growing,” she said. Her husband is Gerald Brenner. The couple lives near Colorado High-

way 131 south of Steamboat, about two miles from the Bongiorno’s.

“In the first part of June, we had three nights of a freeze,” Don Bongiorno said. “It froze my alfalfa and stunted the grass.”

So he cut his alfalfa about a month early and will have to sell the grass hay at a higher price.

“There’s going to be a shortage this year, and the (dry-land hay) prices are going to be high,” Don Bongiorno said. “They already are high.”

He has seen hay prices between $170 and $220 a ton. Don Bongiorno said a typical price for hay is between $70 and $100 a ton.

Rising fuel costs, like the weather, also are having a ripple effect on the agricultural industry.

“We’re paying $2.76 or $2.86 for farm diesel now,” Candyce Bongiorno said. “Two years ago it was a dollar-something. We’ve had to drop a couple of fields.”

Higher fuel prices mean related expenses such as twine and tractor maintenance also are more expensive.

“You don’t see the cost of hay increasing at the same level that all these input costs are increasing. The margin of profit is pretty narrow,” said Jay Whaley, 4-H agent at the extension office. “It costs a lot of money to run those tractors out there; it’s a pretty tough business.”

Whaley said he has seen the weather this summer have an impact on dry-land hay ranchers throughout the valley.

“Every year is a little different,” he said. “It’s just part of living in Routt County.”

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com


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