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Gas prices concern booming hay industry

Lawton_As worldwide demand for American hay grows, many producers and distributors are transporting it farther from where it is grown to those who need it.  With high gas prices, and diesel, farmers and distributors tried trains instead of trucks to transport it, but that slows the transport process.  The Oklahoma Wheat Commission says the state has mounds of grain waiting to be shipped, and there currently are not enough rail cars to carry it all.  There is a large harvest expected this fall - Could the situation get worse?  Could the hay surplus be wasted?

Although the recent drop in gas prices is helping a bit, some local farmers who cultivate alfalfa and hay say gas prices are still too high.  Many farmers are turning to hay distributors to transport the grain because they cannot afford the gas.  However, distributors are suffering as well. 

Edgar McCracken operates a worldwide hay distribution business from Elgin.  "We buy some [hay] off the local farmers, transport it in here, and then ship it out back out," he said.  "Or, they haul it in here and we ship it back out, because we're a little better at getting cheaper trucks than they are."  The choice of truck is key with diesel prices spiking to $5 per gallon this summer.  Grain trucks haul the heaviest load allowed on U.S. highways, and many truckers simply cannot afford to transport so much.  "Last year we still had about a thousand tons left when the season was over because we couldn't get the trucks," said McCracken.

But, what does that mean to the average American who already feels the pain at the pump?  Hay is a worldwide necessity that feeds animals, which in turn feed us.  So, when distributors have a difficult time getting hay from the field to livestock, it directly affects the price of groceries.  "Hay goes into your beef industry - your beef-cattle," said hay producer James Barfuss.  It also goes to herds and effects dairy herds - increasing prices for cheese, milk, etc.  "Anything that could go on the shelf," said hay Business Manager Sherry Nix. 

The hay industry isn't the only group concerned, grains distribution as a whole is struggling.  Areas such as New Mexico and Utah have poor grain crops due to drought and parasites.  In Oklahoma, there may be a record year for hay production, and while that is good news generally, it won't be if it rots because of farmers can't afford to transport it.  "We're all paying for it in the end anyway," said McCracken.  "Even though all the middle men are trying to get it there [shipped] at the most reasonable cost we can."

The industry is waiting for fuel prices to drop and give it some relief, but no one is holding their breath.  "In the last 10 years I've seen farm fuel go from 50-cents a gallon to...the highest this year was almost five dollars a gallon in my area," said McCracken.  Other production and operating costs also are weighing down the hay industry - rising prices in fertilizer, tires, farm equipment, and minimum wage.

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