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Hay prices surge as overseas demand rises

Some owners abandoning animals
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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As more hay is loaded up on cargo ships and headed to the Far East, Auburn-area residents are feeling the impact on their wallets. Local animal and feed store owners say the price of hay has skyrocketed over the past few years and climbed particularly high in the past month. A number of factors have created the perfect storm for higher prices, including the demand for more hay in China, farmers planting less of the commodity and the weather. It?s causing many owners to have to sell their animals, while some feed store owners say they have even heard of people abandoning theirs. Karin Sinclair, owner of Sinclair Farms in Newcastle, feeds over 350 animals a day. She said a drought in Australia is causing demand for U.S. hay to rise from China. The prices have already been high over the past few years, but the increase of exports to foreign markets is making the cost too much for some locals to afford. ?You look at alternatives. It is either that or sell your animals,? Sinclair said. ?The quantities of animals that are running through the auction fields are just extreme.? Recently Sinclair got lucky and was able to buy hay at a discounted price from someone whose load weighed too much at the Truckee Pass. Ted Greenfield, owner of Foothill Feed and Gifts in Loomis, said the average price for a bale of hay has gone from about $13 to $18.75 over the past couple of years. This has impacted marginal animal owners the most. ?It is a daily conversation,? Greenfield said. ?They are wondering when prices are going to go down, just like I do.? He said prices usually dip down in late summer and early fall, but this year the relief will be less than in the past. Most recently, Greenfield estimates there was a 30 percent increase in the cost of hay over a period of just six months. The trend has led to some animal owners resorting to desperate measures, he added. ?You hear stories of people who will actually dump their animals in pastures or you come back from a trail ride and find horses tied to your trailer,? Greenfield said. ?They are dumping them in high deserts in Nevada.? Greg Kilmer, owner of Echo Valley Ranch and a board of governor for the Tevis Cup 100 Mile Endurance Ride, said farmers haven?t planted as much hay because the demand for other commodities, including corn and cotton, went up. He said it can actually be cheaper per bale for China to transport hay in empty cargo containers on ships returning to the mainland than for him to have it trucked in from Oregon. He has been in the hay business for over three decades and said the current trend is unlike anything he has ever seen before. Now when he calls to put in his hay orders it isn?t uncommon for him to be told he has to pay $10 more per bale because of more competitive bids from China. Kilmer said lower-quality alternatives often aren?t much cheaper in the big picture. He said on average it costs a little over $3 per day to feed a horse, which for a 1,000 pound animal is fairly economical. He remains optimistic that hay buyers could see relief soon and they will never have to go without. ?There will always be hay,? Kilmer said. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.