It’s hard to imagine hay bales being the focus of a crime spree. They are, after all, just piles of old grass. But in some parts of the United States, hay theft is emerging as a big problem. Long periods of severe drought and grass fires across much of the western U.S. have forced the price of hay and other livestock feeds to record highs. Some U.S. auctions reported 800-lb. hay bales, enough to feed the average cow for about 20 days, fetching close to $350 each.
“Oklahoma is screaming for hay,” Dale Leslein, manager of a hay auction in Iowa, told Farm Progress America. “Missouri is running short; Nebraska is very tight, as are Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. They’re all running out of hay.”
Many thieves are stealing one bale at a time, hoping the farmer or rancher won’t notice. More brazen thieves have made off with truckloads of bales, worth thousands. Farmers have started branding their bales with distinctive twine or colouring. In Oklahoma, one sheriff reportedly inserted a GPS unit inside a bale located in a known hot spot. The trap worked and the thieves were caught.
There is one upside: Canadian farmers and ranchers are scrambling to help fill the demand for hay in the U.S., where they’re getting $30 per tonne more for their product.