A first-glance check of USDA's May 1 hay stocks report, released last week, seems to indicate that carryover supplies nationally are more than ample heading into the new crop year. Dig a little deeper into the numbers, though, and you'll find stocks in many regions of the country are fairly tight, says Matt Diersen, ag economist with South Dakota State University Extension.

According to the Crop Production report, total hay stocks on U.S. farms tallied 22.2 million tons, up 6% from the year-ago figure. Disappearance from Dec. 1, 2010, to May 1, 2011, totaled 79.9 million tons compared with 86.3 million tons for the same period the year before.

As of late March, Diersen was looking for May 1 stocks to be closer to 20 million tons, maybe even as low as 18 million tons, based on long-term disappearance trends. Typically, he notes, May 1 stocks are around 20% of the amount reported by USDA the previous December.

"Given the tough winter we had in many parts of the country, I would have expected disappearance to be higher."

The key numbers from last week's report came out of Texas and Oklahoma, where stocks were nearly double what they were a year ago. Hay stocks were listed at 2.5 million tons in Texas, up from year-earlier levels of 1.1 million, and 1.2 million tons in Oklahoma, an increase from 650,000 tons for the same date the year before.

"It seemed a little odd," Diersen says of that part of the report. "Both of those states are experiencing severe drought. You would have expected stocks to be quite a bit lower."

One possible explanation, he adds, is that livestock producers in that region have already begun bringing in supplies from other parts of the country in anticipation of a tightening inventory later in the year. "So it may be that what we’re seeing is hay being redistributed around the country."

The drought has primarily impacted the western half of Oklahoma, points out Jack Carson of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

"In the eastern half of the state, there appears to be plenty of hay around," he says. When state officials put out a call for listings for the state’s hay directory recently, more than 200 would-be sellers responded.

Take the Oklahoma-Texas numbers out of last week's report, Diersen adds, and the national supply picture tightens considerably.

"Many states actually have tighter ending stocks than they did a year ago," he says. "The hay supply nationally isn't all that plentiful. With cool spring weather likely to delay first-crop harvest in many parts of the country, and fewer hay acres in production this year, we should see some upward pressure on prices as the new crop comes on."