Nevada farmers, ranchers seek good year ahead

Livestock production constitutes the largest portion of Nevada's agriculture industry.

Livestock production constitutes the largest portion of Nevada's agriculture industry.

High demand for Nevada cattle and hay is expected to continue through 2015 and keep prices for both commodities at profitable levels for northern Nevada ranchers and farmers.

Northern Nevada dairymen, however, may see prices for fluid and powered whole milk dip in the coming year.

Jack Payne, owner of Nevada Livestock Marketing in Fallon, says cattle prices were robust throughout the past year due to reduced herd sizes, increased domestic demand for beef and strong beef exports. The auction yard on Allen Road in Fallon sells several thousand feeder and butcher cattle each month.

The highest price paid for butcher cows (animals weighing between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds) at Fallon Livestock Marketing was during the summer when they hit $140 a pound. Feeder cattle weighing between 350 to 375 pounds fetched $4 a pound, another profitable number, Payne adds.

“That is phenomenal,” he says. “Everybody has feeling that there just are no more cattle out there, and it’s only going to get higher. A lot of people who have never owned cattle are trying to get in and buy.”

Payne cautions that the cattle market might see a correction in first quarter of 2015. Live cattle futures were $158 a pound for February but were trading down 7 percent for August.

“The futures have taken a lot of money off cattle,” Payne says. “My prediction is that there will be lot of fed cows — people are buying skinny cows to put on feed, and we should see them hit the market in February or March. We should see a dip at that point, but in June and July prices should really get higher because there are so few out there.”

California ranchers also could lead to additional demand for 300- to 500-weight calves. Thousands of Nevada calves typically head over the Sierra Nevada each year, but California’s lingering drought has curbed demand from Central Valley ranchers. The spate of storms in the state in December could create new demand for light cattle and bred cows.

Hay prices in Nevada aren’t expected to retreat in 2015 either. Prized alfalfa hay from Nevada farms sold for $235 a ton in October of 2014, down $5 from the previous month.

Prices for alfalfa were strong throughout the year, peaking at $265 a ton in July and $260 a ton in August, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reports. Prices dipped to $204 a ton in January. Total production from Nevada hay growers for the year was forecast to be 950,000 tons, up .5 percent from 2013.

Although 2014 was an excellent year for northern Nevada dairymen, especially those in the dairy hub of Churchill County, milk prices are expected to dip in the coming year.

Fallon-area dairymen enjoyed a robust year with the opening of the Dairy Farmers of America powdered milk plant. However, December’s price for a hundredweight of high-grade milk at 3.5 percent butterfat of $23.72 was down in January of 2015 to $19.50, the Nevada Dairy Commission reports.

Lynn Hettrick, deputy director for Nevada Department of Agriculture, says prices throughout the northwest could soften by another $4 due to overproduction.

“Dairymen in the north have done particularly well,” he says. “They are getting very good prices and are out of the cost of shipping milk to California. But that plant is running very near capacity because they are shipping milk out of California that is readily available to be shipped over here.”


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