Look for alfalfa and other hay from Canada and Mexico to fill at least some of livestock producers’ feed-supply void caused by widespread drought.

That was definitely the case in 2011, according to “Drought Effects On U.S. Hay Imports,” a recent report from the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC). Alfalfa imports from Mexico and Canada totaled nearly 130,000 metric tons last year, up sharply from about 20,000 metric tons in 2010, the report showed.

Other hay imports in 2011 totaled nearly 40,000 metric tons, almost double the 2010 level. Taken together, the total of all hay imported in the U.S. during 2011 was the highest since USDA began tracking the numbers in 1989.

Prior to last year, U.S. all-hay import volume reached its highest level in 2008, when nearly 90,000 metric tons of alfalfa and more than 60,000 tons of other hay came into the U.S. from other countries.

“The situation was a little different that year,” says Katelyn McCullock, dairy and forage economist with LMIC, who authored the report. “We didn’t have widespread drought in the U.S. But overall feed prices were very high, and we also saw a spike in the national dairy cattle inventory.”

In the first half of this year, alfalfa imports were up by more than 50% from 2011 numbers for the same period and other hay imports (a category that doesn’t include timothy hay) doubled, McCullock points out. Even so, take the percentage-increase figures with a grain of salt, she advises. “Even with a large influx of hay coming into the U.S., imports are the equivalent of less than 0.25% of all U.S. production.”

For that reason, imports aren’t likely to have a large impact on the national supply situation this year, she says. “But it could make a difference in some Northern or Southwestern states where they came out of the winter with small stocks and haven’t had large yields this year.”

As is usually the case, more hay has been coming into the U.S. from Canada than from Mexico this year. Northern Mexico has been experiencing drought dating back to last year. Canada has experienced relatively little dryness and has continued to export available hay.

Exchange rates for the Canadian dollar and Mexican peso have been relatively favorable for imports during most of 2012. Other factors, though, are likely to play a bigger role in determining how much hay is shipped to the U.S. “For each of these countries, the situation of their domestic livestock industries and logistical problems associated with transporting a heavy, large-volume product like hay, particularly from the Canadian interior, have higher impacts,” says McCullock.

For more information, contact McCullock at 303-236-0467 or katelyn.mccullock@lmic.info.