Southcentral hay farmers optimistic over harvest

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2001

WASILLA (AP) -- After two years of dismal hay harvests, horse owners and livestock ranchers may be in luck.

The same hot, dry weather that fueled forest fires gave some hay farmers the sun-filled window they needed to cut and dry their crops.

That's welcome news to people who have been spending upward of $12 for a 50-pound bale of hay. In a more normal year, a bale would cost about $7, said Tim Sonnentag, co-owner of Alaska Animal Food Warehouse. A horse can eat three bales in a week.

The hay news has also been good for some farmers who have struggled for the past few years with poor crops.

''We've had quite a phenomenal year, really,'' said Don Gossett, who harvested about 50 acres last week at the University of Alaska's experimental farm near Palmer.

Other farmers have also gotten in nice crops, said Sue Benz, a Palmer-based statistician who tracks hay harvests in Alaska for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Not everyone is having a banner year.

Farmers at Point MacKenzie have been struggling with a drought that has stunted crops, turning normally chest-high grass into 6-inch stubs, said Scott Peterson, who farms about 475 acres for his S Bar S ranch.

Others have cut crops only to have it rained on, which can discolor the hay, and in extreme cases, leach out the nutrients.

Farmers typically need three or four days of sunny weather to dry the cut hay before it can be baled. If they don't dry it first, the hay can mold, Peterson said. In the worst case, heat generated by the mold can cause a bale to catch on fire.

Last year, constant rain and cool weather fouled up many hay farmers in the Mat-Su area. ''We just never got the three-day window we needed,'' said Bud Frohling, who runs Spring Creek Farms just north of Palmer.

Near Delta Junction, the harvest was so poor that farmers earned a federal disaster declaration.

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