Hay prices are expected to rise in the coming months, perhaps dramatically in some states, despite higher production during the 2003 growing season.

USDA estimates 2003 alfalfa production at 78.5 million tons, 6% more than the 2002 amount. Produc-tion of all hay is put at 161 million tons, 6.5% more than in 2002. But rainy weather throughout the eastern half of the country hurt quality through midsummer, then dryness cut late-season yields in some areas.

Three of the hardest-hit states are Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where alfalfa production dropped by 20% or more. Many dairy producers compensated by harvesting higher-than-normal amounts of corn silage, but strong demand for hay is expected in these states.

In most other areas east of the Mississippi River, the late-season dry weather provided plenty of har-vesting opportunities, and alfalfa yields ended up above those of last year. Production was up slightly in the Pacific Northwest, too, but down in the Southwest due to hot, dry weather early in the growing season.

USDA estimates production of hay other than alfalfa at 82.2 million tons, up 7% from last year’s figure. Abundant rainfall brought record-high yields in Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. But persistent wetness cut grass hay production in a few states. In the central Great Plains, lack of rainfall in August limited yields, but they remained above 2002 levels.