Delta farmer Jerry Keulen displays some of his hay crop. He and other farmers are concerned as a lack of rainfall and fires across B.C. are having an impact on crop production and the availability of animal feed.

Drought and fires spur hay hoarding

Farmers, ranchers and businesses in Surrey and Delta have had to adapt as fears rise about supply of animal feed.

Horse and cattle ranchers are stocking up on hay, as a protracted drought and wild fires continue to cause both supply shortages and increased prices.

Marilyn Murdy, a bookkeeper with Cloverdale’s Vanderveen Hay Sales in Cloverdale said the big trucks started showing up about a month ago.

Ranchers and farmers are stocking up.

Prices have climbed about 15 to 20 per cent, and Vanderveen is immensely busy.

In her six year’s with the company, Murdy has seen it get hectic, but it appears ranchers are preparing for a shortage.

“As far as trailer loads of hay, I’d say it’s busier this year,” Murdy said.

Hay growers typically get three to four cuts of the perennial crop each year. So far, most hay growers have about three cuts harvested, but because of the heat this summer, crops have gone dormant, much like a lawn.

That leaves growers waiting for rains to bring that next crop up to harvestable levels.

For Jerry Keulen of Delta’s Seabreeze Farms it means about a 30 per cent reduction in his crop of grass and corn.

“The crops are hurting because of the dry conditions,” Keulen said Wednesday. “We’re definitely getting one crop less than typically.”

Seabreeze is also a dairy farm, and the crops are used to feed the cows. Keulen has had to buy feed from Washington State, as it was the only area that could provide him the volume or quality he needed. He’s not panicked by the changes, but says he has to be adaptable.

“We’re not worried or nervous, but we do look at the whole picture,” Keulen said. “Adapting to climate change is what this falls under.”

The shortages seem to be largely regional. Some areas of B.C. are reporting little or no impact, while others say production is down 50 per cent. The drought has been compounded by the large number of fires burning in the province.

Kevin Boon, with the B.C.  Cattleman’s Association, said some of the ranches in the south of the province have burned, meaning large feed areas for cattle are gone. In some instances, the barns holding stockpiles of feed have also burned. It means those ranchers are having to go to market to feed their stock.

Boon said there is still hay available in the Peace and Thompson River areas, but there’s trucking costs to consider.

While on average, the cost of hay has risen 15 to 20 per cent, in some instances it’s been far more. Boon has heard of cases in which hay cost has gone from $140 a tonne to $220 a tonne (a 57 per cent hike).

He was surprised to hear some ranchers may be stockpiling hay. It may be a mistake in the long run, he said, as prices may stabilize, leaving them stuck having paid higher prices.

Those who are hoarding hay would also require a barn to keep it out of the elements. Those without a barn will be more susceptible to fluctuating prices and shortages.

And the days of walking over to a neighbouring farm to borrow some hay may be dwindling quickly, as no one wants to get caught without.

Boon said there’s hay to be had in Alberta. Bringing it up from Washington is a bit of a non-starter because of the low Canadian dollar.

He added some ranchers may also sell off calves a year early to avoid the higher costs of feed.

Kelly Coughlin with the Horse Council of B.C. said there are differing opinions on the matter throughout the membership. The general sense is it’s too early to make any predictions.

Coughlin said most council members are in a state of “cautious optimism.”

Boon said consumers aren’t likely to see a big difference on the store shelves with meat and dairy product prices because of the higher feed prices, as things tend to level out over time. The beef being purchased now, for example, would have been taken from the ranch some time ago.