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Wet, soggy spring hurts Colorado hay harvest

ILIFF, Colo. (AP)--Colorado's wet spring has helped some farmers, but it's leaving Eastern Plains hay farmers with a soggy mess.

Farmers say plentiful rain this spring has helped most crops, including grass hay and alfalfa used to feed horses and cattle. But after the hay is cut, too much rain can prevent it from properly drying out.

In northeastern Colorado, farmer Don Leonard calls the wet spring an "economic disaster'' for him.

"I've been at this for 35 years, and this is about as tough as it's been for me,'' he told The Denver Post.

In the past 30 days, the precipitation levels for northeastern Colorado were mostly between 5 and 8 inches, according to the National Weather Service. In June 2008, precipitation levels for the same region were mostly between .5 and 2 inches.

Leonard, also the treasurer of the Colorado Hay and Forage Association, says the hay on the ground has been there for 28 days without drying. Last summer, his hay was on the ground for five days before it was baled and ready for sale.

Leonard predicts he'll produce about 4,000 tons of hay from his first cutting but that it won't be up to par. Last year, he said, the first cutting yielded 5,000 tons of good-quality hay.

"We have expectations that conditions will get better, and we have hope that the price will remain the same as last year,'' he said.

Jodie Pitcock, market reporting supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's marketing service, says there has been little "supreme'' and "premium'' quality hay this month, instead being in three lower categories.

The hay downturn will mean less good feed for ranchers and horse owners in Colorado.

Lance Shockley, a horse trainer who owns a farm in Loveland, told the newspaper that said that after the first cutting, he needs about five to seven days of dry weather in order to bale it up and sell it.

"At this point, there's not very much alfalfa for people to be purchasing,'' he said.

Recent hail storms in northeast Colorado have been especially bad for alfalfa because the hail strips the leaves off it.

John Stulp, commissioner of agriculture for Colorado, said the effects of the rain depend on what stage farmers are in during the hay-farming process.

He said he has not seen any significant drop in prices so far, but if the rain keeps coming, that might change.

"If you have hay that's been weather-damaged and the color isn't good, then you can see the price drop half of what it's worth,'' he said.

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