THE hay market has turned the corner and although the bulk of the demand is yet to appear, prices are firm.
Farmers are reconsidering their enterprise options and there are an increasing number of producers considering hay as a good cash crop this year.
Those graziers and croppers who chose to cut hay last year are glad they did because hay gross margins have compared favourably against key crops, such as canola and wheat.
First time cereal hay producers are being advised by contractors to enter the hay market in a staged process and not in large areas in year one because the harvest and marketing risks are different to those for grain.
Vetch producers managed to snare some high quality vetch hay, which is gaining preference from hay buyers, particularly dairy farmers.
Fresh, soft hay with high protein is just what these producers have been aiming for and their sheds have this hay securely stored.
Due to the high quality achieved this year, vetch hay sellers aim for $220 to $230 a tonne ex farm in either the Mallee or Wimmera.
Competing hay sellers in the Murray Valley have lucerne hay for sale.
Hay merchants have been surprised by the volume of lucerne hay being produced this year from many 20 to 30ha paddocks in the irrigated regions of Northern Victoria.
Contractors report some lucerne stands cut as much as 3.5 tonnes/ha in a single cut.
While some lucerne producers who have support from chaff mills can secure up to $300/ha ex farm for top quality chaffing hay, most consider the export markets around $230 delivered plant or the dairy market.
Unlike their dryland colleagues further south and west, lucerne producers are not prepared to store hay or wait for the market to come to their price expectations.
A higher number of lucerne producers are selling off grade lucerne for the dairy market at $160 to $180/tonne ex farm.
Although many dairy producers prefer vetch, price is swinging buyers to lucerne, reducing the sales of vetch hay. Cereal straw baling is also drawing to a close.
The weather has been well suited to baling straw, with rain maintaining clean standing stubble.
Contractors have been surprised with the volumes of straw available with little or no weather staining.
Although there are signs that the area cut for hay this coming spring will be higher, some fodder contractors will exit the industry.
It has been a poor return on contractors' equipment investment.
The throughput of bales last spring was so low that some have failed to meet their commitments and must sell balers.