The market for dairy hay is growing in the Texas Panhandle as the region's dairy cow population continues to increase at a rapid pace. Available land and a cow-friendly climate have attracted dairies from inside and outside of Texas. Three of the top five milk-producing counties in Texas -- Parmer, Deaf Smith and Castro counties -- are in the panhandle. Benji Henderson, Parmer County agriculture and natural resources extension agent, says, "There wasn't a dairy to be found in the area about 20 years ago, and now we have a number of them."

The panhandle has around 140,000 dairy cows now, and more are on the way. "We expect to see continued growth in the area for at least the next five years," says Ellen Jordan, dairy specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. "How fast that growth occurs depends on milk prices and factors such as the cost of concrete and steel. But we could see another 100,000 dairy cows come to the area over the next five to 10 years." Jordan says the average dairy in the area has around 2,000 cows.

Dairy-quality alfalfa hay is hard to find throughout Texas this year. Jordan says a lot of moisture early in the year made it difficult to put up quality hay in some areas. "We have an abundance of Coastal bermudagrass, but some of it got too mature," she explains. "A lot of our dairy producers have some silage they can use this winter. It has been harder to find wheat straw for rations."

Limited irrigation water will have an impact on the region's crop production capabilities, according to Vivien Allen, Texas Tech University forage agronomist. Read her comments in the article, "Trouble In Texas," in the January issue of Hay & Forage Grower.

Contact Jordan at 972-952-9212, or Henderson at 806-481-3619.