Alfalfa acreage has been declining in Central Oregon for a few years (this year it could turn around) which has tightened alfalfa stocks overall locally. Add strong prices for dairy hay packaged in 3×4 bales, and the result is a much lower local supply of small bale alfalfa. Besides Culver, Prineville and Madras, the only area with any sizable alfalfa fields left are located in Sisters. The community of Alfalfa located east of Bend has seen huge reduction of acreage. Many fields are dry now, and few fields remain. Take a drive out sometime and you can see firsthand the lack of alfalfa fields, some have been dried up, others are now replaced with orchard grass or pastures. Most of the remaining acreage is packaged in large bales to be trucked to dairies outside the area.
In Sisters, there are still some acreage left in alfalfa, and most of the crop is still sold locally, or at least packaged in small bales. I wish there was a source of data that tracks hay acreage accurately locally, I have scouted locally and seen firsthand the reduction of acreage, and talked to farmers about their clients, but data would be interesting to look at.
Alfalfa needs fairly neutral soil to yield well, and unfortunately adding lime into a fertility program adds substantial cost that is difficult to make up. Even with the added lime cost, it still is cheaper to fertilize than grass, but some fields are just too acidic to justify bringing to acceptable range for alfalfa.
With the reduction of alfalfa supplies, I have seen a shift of pricing. Traditionally, orchard grass with the additional nitrogen cost has commanded $20-$30/ton more than alfalfa, but in the last two years it’s flipped around. Keep in mind that the flipping of the prices has been mostly locally here, there are still cheaper alfalfa elsewhere but locally there has been a trend of increasing alfalfa prices higher than grass.