ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

Preparing for winter is a way of life for Alaskans every fall -- but this year may be a challenge for the state's farmers, with officials warning of a hay shortage.

Alaska farmers say due to a late and dry growing season, hay crops are down. Mary Shields manages the F-Bar-J Ranch in Anchorage and her business completely depends on hay.

"We've all heard about the shortage and of course we're very concerned," Shields said. "No hay means no feed. Horses rely on it, and with winter coming they need a little more of it to keep the weight on."

The state Division of Agriculture, as well as state veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach, say this year's extreme weather has had a negative impact on the hay crop -- and both urge farmers to start planning now.

A hay shortage isn't bad news for everyone. Dalton Baines and his mother Deborah run Alaska Hay Sales. As the farmers run out of hay, business is booming for the Baines.

At this time of year, Alaska Hay Sales usually has two 25-ton hay vans barged up every month to Anchorage from an Outside supplier. In the past two months, however, the company has averaged between three to five vans, at times nearly tripling its volume.

"The farmers are weeding through everything they have, even last year's hay," Dalton Baines said. "I know a lot of these people so try to help out as much as I can; we're pretty close in the horse community."

State officials say farmers should contact their suppliers to make sure they'll have enough hay to get through the winter. Those who own livestock should check with their veterinarians before using an alternative to hay.