Farmers face difficult decisions amidst high hay prices, shortages

As ranchers eliminate their herds due to lack of feed, some fear the long-term effects on the livestock industry in Alaska
As ranchers eliminate their herds due to lack of food, some fear the long-term effects on the livestock industry in Alaska
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 7:56 PM AKDT
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SOLDOTNA, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaskan farmers are calling it ‘the perfect storm,’ as inflation, soaring diesel costs, on top of a poor season for growing hay are leaving some farms in the red and others struggling to feed their herds.

While Alaskans were soaking up that early summer sun, a problem was stirring on the surface of the soil for local hay farmers. Hot, drought-like conditions early in the season hindered initial growth, and now more trouble has plagued producers as persistent rain has made it difficult to harvest.

Owner of Tullos Funny Farm in Soldotna, Gerry Tullos, said it’s one of the worst years he’s seen in the 47 years he’s been harvesting.

“In a good year you can get anywhere from about 75 to 100 bales to an acre,” Tullos said. “One year we had 16,000 bales. This year, maybe we’re going to hit 8,000.”

It’s not the lowest harvest Tullos has seen, as he recalled about 30 years ago an even more extreme summer only produced about 1,300 bales, but the farm owner admitted that it’s unlikely he will break even financially this year. The rows of hay currently still on Tullos’ farm are skinny.

“And it’s sold if I ever get it dry,” Tullos stated.

With hay farmers like Tullos yielding only half of their average, ranchers like Ben Adams - who opened 4T% Ranch just this year — are left wondering what’s going to happen to their herds.

“Every single day I’m almost in tears thinking ‘How many of my cows do I need to shoot,” Adams said. “I got a lot of calves too, what am I supposed to do with them? It’s a nightmare.”

Adams moved to Alaska to become a farmer after walking away from a career practicing law in California. He said he’s worried about the long-term effects on the livestock industry in the state where leaders frequently discuss food security. Adams knows of other farmers who have drastically downsized their herds, or eliminated them completely.

“What does this mean in a year or two, or five years or 10 years?” Adams asked. “We’re talking about literally a generational disparity here in the livestock industry in Alaska. It could literally take a generation to ever be back where we are now, that’s the fear.”

According to Tullos, the price of fertilizer has gone up over $500 per ton since last year, leaving farmers like Adams paying double to keep their animals fed. According to Adams, round bales from Kenai Feed were around $90 each.

“I was there the other day to get some stuff, they’re $320 now,” Adams said.

Adams said farmers are now left to either find alternative types of feed or send their animals to slaughter, which could potentially flood the meat market and temporarily drive prices down. In an attempt to make it through the winter, he plans to try a combination of both.

“As a farmer, I work 80 to 100 hours a week, I know I’m working for free. The only question is how many tens of thousands of dollars do I lose this year?” Adams stated. “And that has to do with sourcing hay. It’s brutal.”

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