(Tim Jaynes, Staff)
"Most of it went to Oklahoma last year because of the drought situation," said Beussink, who bales hay for sale and his own horses consumption in Benton.
Those droughts in the west, combined with the late spring freeze which lowered hay production, will make it difficult to find hay again this year.
"My advice is to buy early and make arrangements with hay producers and hay sellers," said Craig Cox of Sikeston, who owns horses. He began baling his own hay this summer, for his horses and himself, because of the shortage.
Beussink agreed. "I would be contracting my suppliers early," he said. "I think the hay is going to be short again this winter."
Hay is a supplemental feed used for animals, especially cattle and horses.
"Horses and cattle need ruffage -- it's very important for horses especially," said Jim Gooch, owner of Feeders Supply in Sikeston. "It helps them digest."
Small animals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters also use hay.
Gooch's store was also hit by the shortage. "It came to a point where you couldn't hardly find the hay," he said. When he did find a load, it would be sold out within just one or two days, Gooch said.
Prices went up "dramatically," Gooch said, with a 50 percent raise, from $4 to $6 a bale. Beussink said he also adjusted his hay prices.
Due to the trouble finding hay, Cox said his horses actually went without it for about a week. "So I'm baling everywhere I can to keep my horses fed this year," he said.
Beussink said a lot of others may have faced that problem, or have been forced to use lower-quality hay.
Gooch said there are some alternatives to hay. "They're also more expensive," he said.
One is a complete feed, which includes that ruffage the animals need. There is also dehydrated hay, which has been processed to remove all the water from it.
Cox and Gooch agreed the April cold snap stunted this year's hay production. "A lot of potential hay that could have been baled on the first cutting was lost," Cox said.
That and droughts around the country are "putting even more pressure on an already short crop," Gooch said.
"I expect that you're going to see prices at least as high as 2006 this year," Gooch continued, "and possibly a hay shortage to the point where we don't even have it at all like we did in early 2007."
To help connect hay producers with those in need of the product, the Missouri Department of Agriculture has set up a "hay hot line." The number is 800-877-4HAY. There is also a joint effort between The University of Missouri-Columbia and the MDA to provide an online listing of available hay, found at www.agebb.missouri.edu/haylst/index.htm.